October 22, 2012

2012: Highlight # 17

India and China often represent contrasting approaches to addressing similar development challenges. What can India learn from the Chinese model of irrigation modernization? Shah and others discuss...

Irrigation Modernization: Chinese Style

Report on a field visit to Shijin irrigation system, Hebei province

Tushaar Shah, Khalid Mohatadulla and Asad Qureshi

China’s irrigation systems suffer from years of deferred maintenance. Most systems were constructed during the Mao Era. During 1980-2010, the tempo of irrigation investments as well as of maintenance, repair and rehabilitation slowed down. In recent years, as China’s water scarcity has deepened and food demand soared, there is growing concern for rehabilitating and modernizing old irrigation infrastructure. China has now launched a 10 year program to modernize its irrigation systems at a total investment of USD 600 billion. An IWMI mission visited China to get a glimpse into China’s irrigation modernization program.

This Highlight reports on the trip, which included a field visit to newly-modernized Shijin irrigation system in Hebei province. If the Shijin system is any guide, three elements of China’s irrigation modernization strategy are: [a] total rehabilitation of old, earthen systems into modern, lined canals for high-efficiency irrigation; [b] institutional reform of irrigation management; and [c] total recovery of irrigation fees levied at rates varying from USD 70 to 400/ha. On all these fronts, canal irrigation in India has much ground to cover: our systems are falling apart; our irrigation institutions have declined; and most states fail to recover even token irrigation service fees (ISF). China presents a bold contrast to the Indian scene on irrigation reform.

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