Drought-prone farms in Qinghai province

Qinghai Province, located in the upper Yangtze and Yellow River valleys in the northeastern part of the Qinghai–Xizang Plateau, is one of the poorest in the People's Republic of China (PRC) because of its remote location, mountainous landscape, and extreme climate.

The project areas are arid and semi-arid and have a plateau continental climate characterized by drought and low and uneven precipitation. Rainfall is scarce, and evaporation is high. About 70% of precipitation occurs from June to September, and precipitation is scarce during the main plant growth period from March to May. This makes irrigation compulsory for agriculture production.

Three nationally designated poor counties in Qinghai Province namely, the Hualong Hui Autonomous County and Xunhua Salar Autonomous County in Haidong Prefecture, and Jianzha County in Huangnan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture only relied on small lift irrigation pumps built in the early 1970s. The pumping stations and on-farm irrigation systems were not functional due to lack of funds, poor management, and the lack of active farmer involvement.

Farmers who were faced with the rising costs of pumping and agricultural inputs were forced to find other sources of income. As a result, about 21% of farmland had been abandoned in the project counties, and poverty incidence was about 39%.

  About 195,400 farmers in poor, drought-prone counties in Qinghai province, PRC can now enjoy affordable irrigation thanks to the loan funded by ADB and capacity development technical assistance funded by the Multidonor Trust Fund under the Water Financing Partnership Facility.

ADB's assistance increases agricultural productivity

In March 2011, ADB approved a loan of $60 million to increase agricultural productivity and irrigation water use efficiency in the counties of Hualong, Jianzha, and Xunhua. The project comprised four outputs: climate-resilient irrigation infrastructure; participatory irrigation management (PIM); strengthened agricultural service support for increased productivity and climate change adaptation; and improved project management.

The Multidonor Trust Fund under the Water Financing Partnership Facility (WFPF) supported the capacity development technical assistance (TA) attached to the loan for “Strengthening Participatory Irrigation Management and Project Management Capacity in Qinghai Province.” The TA was requested by government to help expedite irrigation management reforms and improve the monitoring and evaluation capacity development in Qinghai province. It directly addressed the institutional capacity gap of Qinghai in effective irrigated agriculture development.

  Providing adequate irrigation in farming communities improves social cohesion. The loan “Qinghai Rural Water Resources Management Project” set up climate-resilient irrigation infrastructure, which decreased water disputes.

A community development approach improved water users association farmers’ participation.

A community development approach improved water users association farmers’ participation. Photo: ADB

Affordable irrigation benefits poor farmers

Completed in March 2019, the project interventions which included the development of gravity irrigation systems providing affordable irrigation to 13,955 hectares of agricultural land, benefited about 195,400 farmers, 95% of whom are ethnic minorities. The project also increased unskilled job opportunities for women and the poor, and further bolstered social cohesion thanks to the sufficient water supply and decreased water disputes. Irrigation water use efficiency increased from 35% to 55% upon project completion.

Following a participatory approach, the project established and registered 12 model water users associations formulated based on hydrological units of the irrigation system. A community development approach improved water users association farmers’ participation in project implementation and operations and maintenance. Model water users associations prepared and implemented irrigation plans and water delivery schedules.

“Villages are no longer fighting for irrigation water and villagers’ income is also increased with the service of the south main canal of Lijiaxia”, remarked a monk of Zongneng Temple in Jianzha county.

  The participatory approach improved farmers’ participation in water users’ associations in drought-prone counties in Qinghai province, PRC. Model water users associations organized through the loan project prepared and carried out irrigation plans and water delivery schedules.

The establishment of the first water users association in Hualong County.

The establishment of the first water users association in Hualong County. Photo: ADB

The TA attached to the loan, supported by WFPF, developed a comprehensive institutional framework for the participatory irrigation management and water users association, including a plan for participatory irrigation management implementation. The TA also established a computer-based management information system with modules for project management, financial management, and performance monitoring. In the end, the Qinghai Provincial Water Resources Department requested the three project counties to use their learning developed during the loan implementation for government-funded water development projects.