Monday, November 24, 2008

Soil Erosion a Threat to Food Production in China

Soil erosion in Australia is a serious issue. The environmental brigade will tell you how dire it is, any where and every where. That is an gross over the top attention grabber, for erosion is a natural process closely associated with geological processes over countless millenia. What we need is a system to minimise that soil loss particularly in the most productive land around Australia, or anywhere else in the world too.

Many will argue that the National Landcare program and the myriad action programs at all levels, now operational for about 25 years, has made significant gains in managing the Australian landscape processes, and reducing erosion. At least we like to think so, but it is probably fair to say some good progress continues to be made. The program has been copied and developed in other countries too - notably The Phillipines and South Africa.

While we in Australia might feel good, it is a timely reminder to consider recent information emerging from China. Things are pretty grim in relation to erosion. Picture the giant erosional gullies of the loess plateau......most people have seen those. But it gets worse.

Over a third of China's land is being scoured by serious erosion that is putting its crops and water supply at risk, a three-year nationwide survey has found.

Soil is being washed and blown away not only in remote rural areas, but near mines, factories and even in cities, the official Xinhua agency cited the country's bio-environment security research team saying.

Each year some 4.5 billion tonnes of soil are lost, threatening the country's ability to feed itself.

If the loss continues at this rate, harvests in China's northeastern breadbasket could fall 40 percent in 50 years, adding to erosion costs estimated at 200 billion yuan ($29 billion) in this decade alone.
"China has a more dire situation than India, Japan, the United States, Australia and many other countries suffering from soil erosion," Xinhua quoted the research team saying.

Beijing has long been worried about the desertification of its northern grasslands, and scaled back logging after rain rushing down denuded mountainsides caused massive flooding along the Yangtze in the late 1990s. But around 1.6 million square km of land are still being degraded by water erosion, with almost every river basin affected. The photo shows erosion and bare soils on the loess plateau in China's North East.

Another 2.0 million square km are under attack from wind, the report said.

The survey was the largest on soil conservation since the Communist Party took control of China in 1949.

If you have been to Beijing, you will certainly have experienced the yellow skies from the soil blowing from the west, that irritates the eyes, common in the late winter and early spring periods. Or the steady soil clouds lifted from bare soils in Outer Mongolia, not even that far from Beijing itself. We most certainly could not get farmers to change their thinking and even consider conservation tillage in projects we worked on in China during the late 1990s.

The following two photos show some of the awesome erosion seen on the loess plateau of China. It can be staggering!

A China with food production problems is worth pondering. Also adds some pondering to be considered along with the analysis on "The Politics of Hunger" in a recent post.

[lower two photos used with permission. Thanks. Copyright- Cathy Dowd]

1 comment:

Cathy Dowd said...
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