Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Who Will Feed China

Twenty years ago, Lester Brown published an article in World Watch magazine entitled "Who Will Feed China?" A year later, he followed with a book of the same name.

The article and book generated an enormous outcry from China and dozens of conferences, seminars, and studies, as he writes in his autobiography, Breaking New Ground.

"In 1994 I wrote an article for the September/October issue of World Watch magazine entitled "Who Will Feed China?" The late August press conference releasing it generated only moderate coverage. But when the article was reprinted that weekend on the front of the Washington Post’s Outlook section with the title "How China Could Starve the World," it unleashed a political firestorm in Beijing. …

The World Watch article attracted more attention than anything I have ever written. In addition to appearing in our magazine’s five language editions—English, Japanese, Chinese (Taiwan), German, and Italian—it also appeared in abridged form in many of the world’s leading newspapers, including the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and the International Herald Tribune. It was syndicated internationally by both the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times. Among the other major news organizations covering the analysis were the Associated Press and The Wall Street Journal, including the Asian edition. …

One of the most interesting responses was in Washington, DC, where the National Intelligence Council, the umbrella over all the U.S. intelligence agencies, analyzed the effect of China’s growing demand for grain on world agriculture and any security threats that it might pose. A panel of prominent researchers, led by Michael McElroy, then head of the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard, produced a first-rate study of several hundred pages. …

Meanwhile, within China, every few weeks another study was released attempting to demonstrate why my analysis was wrong. These critiques came from such disparate sources as a scientist from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, an official from the Ministry of Agriculture, and an independent academic scholar. Not long after, an enterprising Chinese publisher took a copy of the original World Watch magazine article and a collection of the critiques of it and published them in a book entitled The Great Debate Between Lester Brown and China. …

Over time, China’s leaders came to both appreciate and acknowledge how Who Will Feed China? had helped change their thinking. A late 1998 issue of Feedstuffs, a weekly agribusiness newspaper, quotes Lu Mai, an agricultural economist and senior fellow at a government think tank in Beijing, as saying, "Brown seems to have been accorded guru status in high places. ‘He’s like the monk from outside who knows how to read the Bible.’" …

Lester proved prescient in his analysis. China is a leading importer of grain and it imports a staggering 60 percent of all soybeans entering world trade—and it looks like it will continue. The problem is not so much population growth, but China’s rising affluence, which is allowing its population to move up the food chain, consuming more grain-intensive livestock, poultry, and farmed fish.

Janet Larsen, EPI’s director of research, wrote last year on the Chinese purchase of Smithfield, the world’s leading pork producer. She has also written on how China’s meat consumption has grown to double that of the United States where meat consumption is falling.

Essentially, twenty years later, we are still wondering who will feed China?

Lester has written a number of articles over the last dozen years about China, which are available on Earth Policy Institute’s website. Below are some highlights. More



Thursday, September 4, 2014

Henan’s Big Drought. Is This From The South–North Water Transfer Project?

Mainland media reported that, since this summer, Henan Province rainfall is 60 percent less than usual over the same period since 1951, which is the lowest value over the same period of history. Pingdingshan City's main water source, Baiguishan reservoir water level is even lower than the dead water of 97.5 meters.

Henan Zhecheng County Shuangmiao Village Ms. Li, “over the entire summer it did not rain. The crops are dry. We are not allowed to irrigate the crops. If I use the well water, I probably cannot even have drinking water."

Droughts have had a serious impact on local agriculture.

Ms. Li, "most places basically have no harvest. Individual crops can be harvested a little, but there is not much. If one place can harvest 40 percent, that’s the best.''

Hubei Province is rich in water during the main flood season this year. But rainfall in most areas decreased by more than 20 percent. 111 small reservoirs and over 50,000 ponds dried up; over 600 reservoirs are below the dead water level; Hanjiang River downstream water level dropped. Danjiangkou reservoir water level is only 142.77 meters on August 19. This is far below the SNWTP planned water level of 170 meters.

For this major disaster, the authorities explained that the drought is caused by a variety of climatic reasons. They claimed that, even if the current trend of precipitation is "north flood south dry", it is still to "transfer water from south to north" to fill the gap of an especially severe water shortage in Beijing.

But the villagers in drought regions have different thoughts.

Ms. Li, " we all think it is due to the SNWTP. In previous years, it was not as dry as in these years."

Villagers discussed and believe that, SNWTP leads the Han River, the Yangtze River and the Yellow River water back and forth; the Three Gorges Reservoir also caused natural flowing rivers to change direction. Poor circulation, and loss of groundwater resources are also very serious. It has a massive impact not only to the surrounding geological environment, but also caused imbalances to the water, clouds, rain, and natural circulation system leading to a severe drought.

Living in Germany, water resources expert Wang Weiluo, has published many articles about Jiang Zemin who to "supply water to the 2008 Beijing Olympics", hastily approved and launched the SNWTP in 2001. It introduced one billion cubic meters of water annually to Beijing, with diversion channels crossing more than 700 natural rivers in Central China. The project completely

broke the law of nature of these rivers; There is a serious engineering problem, even bigger than the Three Gorges, and the threat is to a wider area.

Beijing electrical engineer Mr. Tian, "in principle there is a problem, because it is not that the south is high, the north is low, and it naturally flows across. It is to artificially add a number of processes, which undermines the law of nature. I think this may be even worse than the Three Gorges Dam."

Problems have been reported recently about SNWTP by the media. When the Diversion project tested the water on July 3 for the first time, the media exposed that the water source from Danjiangkou Reservoir exceeded the nitrogen content, and was seriously polluted. The official also acknowledged that water quality for nitrogen and phosphorus exceeded the standards. However he stressed that it would naturally degrade through long-distance transportation.

In late July, the mainland media also reported that SNWTP led to a decrease in the Han River water level. Due to the reduced water flow the fish were unable to spawn by end of July, while in previous years they had finished spawning. Yicheng city located by the Han River was without water three times since last year, the longest time was 48 hours.

In addition to the environmental damages, Beijing electrical engineer Mr. Tian pointed out that the drain from SNWTP is likely to outweigh the benefits.

Mr. Tian, "this unnatural process takes a lot of energy and wastes a lot of water. Introduce ten percent water, and finally arriving in Beijing, maybe even not two percent will get there."

SNWTP has three water diversion routes, namely the east, middle and west line. Of which the middle and east lines cost amounted to 500 billion yuan, 2.5 times larger than the Three Gorges Project. The East line is pumped from the Yangtze River to Tianjin, Qingdao and Yantai direction. The Midline is from Danjiangkou Reservoir as a division of Yangtze tributary the Han River, in Beijing’s direction; The West line is from the upper Yangtze River to the Yellow River water diversion. The East line started in December 2002, until December 8, 2013 the water went through. The Midline started in December 2003, is expected to have water through in October 2014. The West Line has not been started yet. More


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

California’s New Groundwater Legislation Is Unfair. The Governor Should Sign It Anyway.

In California, the score is now: Drought 1, Farmers 0. After years of shockingly dry conditions, fallow fields, freeloading salmon, and forced livestock sales, the state’s legislature has finally taken action.

On Friday, California lawmakers approved a historic measure that would regulate groundwater for the first time in state history. California was the only Western state without controls on the amount of water taken from wells. Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to sign the legislation later this month.

The legislation, which is really three separate bills, intends to limit overpumping by directing local agencies to construct their own "groundwater sustainability plans," with fines for violations. There are also provisions for the state to usurp local plans if they continue to result in groundwater depletions after 2025. A $7.5 billion water bond, another major effort at expanding the state’s already vast water storage and delivery infrastructure, was previously agreed upon and will be placed in front of voters on the November ballot.

The measures were passed hours before the legislative session came to a close, drawing the ire of state agricultural interests, which will likely be most affected by the new rules. The contentious final votes came not along Republican-Democratic lines but a rural-urban divide, with a bipartisan contingent from the agriculturally rich Central Valley staunchly opposed. In California, farmers use more than 80 percent of the state’s water. They’re also the most productive in the nation, leading the way in growing everythingfrom asparagus to walnuts. Farmers there deserve to get the majority of the state’s water, a resource they’ve molded into a multibillion dollar industry that feeds each of us every day. The problem is, there’s currently no real incentive to save dwindling aquifers there, as huge subsidies continue to tempt big agriculture into water-intensive crop choices. Last week’s actions by the state legislature are an attempt to change that.

Despite what essentially amounts to an unjust loss of water rights for Central Valley landowners, the bill should be celebrated. Without a legislative step of this magnitude, it’s only a matter of time before agriculture in its current form becomes impossible in California. Farmers must adapt to a future with less water, and there’s no time like the present.

Earlier this year, I wrote extensively about California water issues in a Slate series called the Thirsty West. On my drought-themed road trip, I met rancher and Tulare County Deputy Agricultural Commissioner Gavin Iacono and Central Valley almond farmer Benina Montes. This week, I spoke with both of them again by phone to gauge their initial reaction to the new regulations.

Iacono says the Central Valley has turned into an arms race of drilling for water. "It’s amazing in just my commute each day, how many well rigs I see out and around. It’s a one- to two-year wait to get a well crew in. I know people that are on a waiting list for four or five different well companies."

According to Montes, the new rules may help make things fairer. As it is currently, he says, "If you’ve got more money, you can go deeper. It’s like, ‘Great, you win.’ "

The drought has hit Iacono hard. This year, he sold his cattle herd because there was no hay left to feed them. Friends are starting to talk about leaving. "More and more, we’ve thought of it, too," he says.

He’s worried—with good reason—that the drought in California may just be getting started. New research led by Cornell University calculated up to a 50 percent chance of a 35-year megadrought later this century. Lead author Toby Ault told the university’s press office that "with ongoing climate change, [the current drought in the West] is a glimpse of things to come. It’s a preview of our future."

Said Iacono, "If that’s true, none of us will survive out here."

Still, Iacono says he has mixed feelings on the new rules. "If they limit how much [groundwater] you can use, that will dictate what crops you can grow. It’s going to lower your property value, and potentially your ability to use the land." He continued, "When you’re legislated out of something that’s been in your family for generations, it’s hard to stomach when you have other people telling you what you can and can’t do."

In the meantime, farmers like Montes are flying a bit blind. Montes pumps vast quantities of water each year for her family’s almond orchard, but has taken steps to try to be as efficient as possible, using drip irrigation and organic management methods. The new legislation should help encourage more farmers to adopt water-saving practices like these.

Montes repeated a groundwater analogy she overheard at a recent Farm Bureau meeting: "Right now we have a bank account, but you don’t really know how much is there. We can’t keep making withdrawals forever." She continued, "It’s hard, because nobody likes being told what to do, but we gotta protect it." More