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)

  Comments() Print Mail Large Medium  Small 分享按钮 0
Growing fear over fate of crops as farmers face nature's scorn, report He Na and Liu Mingtai in Jilin, and Liu Ce in Liaoning.

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."

Parched land bears testimony to scourge of drought

Workers construct an irrigation canal in Northeast China's Heilongjiang province, often dubbed the country's breadbasket. [Wang Jianwei / Xinhua] 

The weather forecast has become the highest-rated program among the region's farmers, with the majority growing increasingly anxious about the conditions. Hu Zuobing of Daling town, Daling city, Jilin province is one of them. The 40-year-old owns more than 7 hectares of farmland. The land provides the only income for his family of four. Last year, drought caused the average yield of his land to decline to roughly 10,000 kilograms per hectare, almost one-third lower than in 2010.

"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.

Anti-drought fund

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.

Parched land bears testimony to scourge of drought 

Workers demolish the reclamation dam in Nenjiang River in Heilongjiang province in late March. The provincial government plans to divert water from the Nenjiang River to renovate its irrigation system for the farmland with an investment of 10.2 billion yuan ($1.6 billion). [Wang Jianwei / Xinhua] 

"I have been toiling in the fields for more than 40 years and, speaking honestly, the method of planting grain has not changed. In our town and even in the city, we haven't seen any water conservation construction," said Cui.

"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.

Previous Page 1 2 Next Page