Parched land bears testimony to scourge of drought
Updated: 2012-04-06 07:39
By He Na and Liu Mingtai in Jilin, and Liu Ce in Liaoning (China Daily)
Spring plowing has already been done in most areas, but in northeastern regions the farmland is still covered with snow and the frozen ground is hard to break.
It was snowing in Jilin province as 65-year-old Cui Shulan, wrapped up against the cold in a padded jacket, sat on the traditional heated brick bed and peered through the window. Looking worried, she murmured something. Her husband Han Zongqing, who is a little hard of hearing, failed to catch his wife's words because her voice was too low, but still he knew what she said. "She must be complaining about the snow not arriving earlier," said Han, also 65. Cui smiled and nodded.
Since December, Northeast China has seen its lowest amount of snow for more than 60 years. This has led to a sharp decrease in the soil's moisture content. Fengman Reservoir, the largest in the province, registered its lowest water level since 1995. Experts said a spring drought in the province is a foregone conclusion.
That drought will affect more than 2 million hectares of farmland in the province.
"I can't remember when I last saw a situation like this, where we had too little snow during winter and spring," said Cui. "It will be a tough year for us if conditions continue like this. Without heavy rain within the first month after planting, the seed sprouts will be affected, not to mention the harvest in autumn."
Workers construct an irrigation canal in Northeast China's Heilongjiang province, often dubbed the country's breadbasket. [Wang Jianwei / Xinhua]
"The region did not have a decent amount of rain or snow between August and early March. Last year has already been officially designated a drought, but this year the conditions are more severe," complained Hu.
"Although Jilin province has recently experienced several late snowfalls, the spring drought has still not been relieved," said Ren Kejun, director of the Jilin provincial agriculture committee.
The soil has frozen to a depth of more than 20 centimeters, which means the snow is unable to soak into the ground below. Meanwhile, a combination of warmer weather and spring winds has led to the snow evaporating, rather than providing moisture for the soil.
Jilin has now established an anti-drought fund of about 40 million yuan ($6.4 million) and the provincial government has launched a number of measures, such as promoting drip irrigation under plastic sheeting in the western regions that have been particularly hard hit, according to Wang Shouchen, the provincial vice-governor.
During the autumn, farmers in the most productive areas began building dams and also tried to locate huge rocks to put in the ice-covered reservoirs and rivers to raise the water level when the ice eventually melts to provide easier access.
The grain basket
Northeast China is the nation's main grain-producing area. Although it has reaped bumper harvests for eight successive years, most of farmers are still at the mercy of the elements. There have been no fundamental improvements in the construction of farmland irrigation systems or in the conservation of water, resulting in a reduced capacity to resist natural disasters.
"Our only access to water is the small well in the middle of the yard. However, that's not enough for our 1.3 hectares of land. When there's a severe drought, the water level in the well is extremely low. We'll be grateful if there is enough to allow us to drink and cook meals," she said.
In Qianguo county in the west of the province, the drought has forced farmers to irrigate three to five times a year to allow the soil to regain its normal water content. "The lack of water and the high cost of irrigation means we usually only do it once or twice a year, so grain output constantly remains at a low point," said a local farmer, Zhang Baozhu.