Water and Food Security – Experiences in India and China
Source: The Global Water Partnership, 2013
The twin challenges of accessing water and energy for food and agriculture are central to reducing poverty and hunger in Asia. Despite the green revolution's success, the continent is home to two thirds of the world's poor and hungry. Investments in the 1970s and 1980s in irrigation and energy have fuelled agricultural revolutions throughout much of Asia and increased employment and incomes. But with the near double digit economic growth, Asia has also experienced increasing inequality, the world's highest population densities, and growing competition for limited land and water resources. The 2030 Water Resources Group, an alliance of private sector organisations, concluded that historic rates of supply expansion and efficiency improvement will only close 20 percent of the supply–demand gap. The Group argues that the future 'water gap' can be closed if water scarce countries boost efficiency, augment supply, or reduce the water-intensity of their economies by ranking alternative investments in terms of their benefits and costs.
But water and food security pose a 'wicked challenge'. A complex mix of hydrology, engineering, constitutional, legal, political, social, inter-sector, institutional, and agronomic issues – with a mix of vested interests – drive policy and determine outcomes in each country. As yet there are few examples of well-documented sustainably managed land and water systems even after nearly 20 years of global acceptance of the Dublin principles (ICWE, 1992).
Water and land related conflicts are increasing within and across national borders. Economicm growth will likely exacerbate these conflicts. Defence and security experts warn that such conflicts pose the biggest threat to regional peace and security in Asia in the twenty-first century.
There is a renewed urgency to understand the determinants and dynamics of water demand, given climate change and demographic pressures, and the challenges that governance poses for harnessing water resources for their effective, equitable, and sustainable use. To further the debate and analysis, this paper identifies important strategic issues confronting the governance of agricultural water management in Asia and its integral relationship with energy management in irrigated and rainfed agriculture. This paper focuses on India and China as dominant and influential countries in the region. Comparisons between these two mega-countries have fascinated analysts for decades as they have each attempted to address similar issues under very different political systems. This interest has increased even more. Their populations now exceed 1 billion each, and together constitute nearly a third of the global population. And until the advent of the global recession they were experiencing near double digit growth. This paper compares and contrasts the ways in which these countries are tackling the same challenge of harnessing water resources to increase effectiveness, equity, and sustainability under conditions of growing water scarcity and competing demands.
Effective water management is a more complex challenge in democratic and decentralised countries, such as India. Here there are competing interests at the political, administrative, and basin levels and less central control than in unitary centrist states, such as China. The differences range from their constitutions to local management. According to the Chinese constitution, ownership of land, water, and other natural resources is vested in the nation state. In a federated India, ownership and user rights, as well as responsibility for the management of water, agriculture, and forests, is largely vested in the hands of the governments of the 28 states and seven union territories. The role of the central government is limited to transboundary issues between states or across national boundaries.
Each country offers useful insights into developing agriculture and water policies and raises issues about the appropriate balance between the exercise of central authority and decentralised management. Yet solutions are not easily transferable across countries and continents, e.g. between China and India, or between Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, which also faces severe water and food security challenges. In the words of Douglas North, the Nobel Prize
winning economist, "the political choices and institutions are path dependent". Experience in China and India suggests that where governance and community capacity is weak, it is risky to undertake technologically demanding hardware projects. In situations of weak governance and institutional capacity, effective small-scale water management solutions are necessary, but are unlikely to be sufficient in the face of growing intra-country and inter-country transboundary
competition, impending threats of climate change, and differential state capacities for collective action. Three areas are in need of urgent attention:
- Better, more reliable and transparent information on the rapidly changing nature of hydrological, demographic, and socioeconomic pressures at all levels, and an understanding of their complex and changing interactions;
- Empirically based, methodologically sound analyses of the realities on the ground as an essential input into developing normative policy prescriptions, including integrated water resources management (IWRM) approaches; and
- Awareness raising, information, and advocacy campaigns among people and decision makers at all levels to develop consensus on the magnitude of the water challenge and the urgency to act on it. This is an essential ingredient for developing solutions that are effectively implemented and independently assessed on a routine basis to determine their impacts and refine solutions.
Link to download the full document: