Guangxi Sugarcane Farmers Scale Up Yields, Increase Drought Resilience


A sugarcane farmer finalizes the lateral tubes of his drip-irrigation system.

 

During the dry half of the year, Li Zhi Wen, a sugarcane farmer in Lianhe Village of Shangsi County in Guangxi, and his wife, Qin Shaozhen, must lead an ox cart three kilometers away to obtain water. Without a dependable water source, it is difficult for them to maintain their sugarcane fields, a water intensive crop, as well as domestic hygiene and sanitation. With an irrigation system, water supply will become stable during the dry months; with a stable supply of water, Li and his wife will be able to tend to the sugarcane fields as well as domestic water needs. He estimates a yield of 120 tonnes as opposed to 30-45 tonnes of sugarcane per hectare each year. 

 

Li is among the 20 million people working in sugarcane agriculture and production in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. In China, as much as 60 percent of sugar production comes from the region. But Guangxi also suffers from droughts and flooding, which damage harvests and decrease productivity. In 2009, Guangxi experienced a severe drought of historic proportions, which significantly impacted crop yields.

 

UNDP in partnership with CICETE and The Coca-Cola Company established a Water Governance Programme in 2010 to address water resources management and establish pilot projects in the rural areas of Sichuan, Liaoling, Xinjinag, Heilongjiang, Zhejiang, Tianjin, Henan, and Guangxi provinces. Among varying pilot projects, the partnership sought to improve irrigation to sugarcane fields and establish safe and dependable water supplies to Guangxi.     

 

The core focus of the project was to increase water use efficiency in sugarcane fields, which was found to be best achieved with drip irrigation, a system that can also be combined with fertilizationto reduce labour intensity and increase efficiency. The implementation directly benefited 3,200 mu (210 hectares) of sugar fields, which not only saved a large quantity of water by reducing water use but also increased efficiency from 25% to 68%. Drip irrigation also allowed for the reduction in pesticide use by directly transferring water and fertilizer to the root of plants; thus, nutrients are not wasted elsewhere in the land, where it could promote unwanted botanic growth and consequently provide for pests.    

 

Additionally, in Guangxi, new infrastructure was built to recycle wastewater generated by the Changling Sugar Manufacturing Plant for irrigation in sugar cane fields. A significant amount of wastewater from Guangxi Chongzuo Guixiang Sugar Production Company was recycled and used to replenish the fields. 

 

In terms of social benefits, 308 people directly benefited from the project. Regarding economic benefits, a conservative estimate of at least 2.0 tonnes per mu (30 tonnes per hectare) more sugarcane can be produced, resulting in additional income to the sugarcane farmers. The project has ultimately created rural resilience to drought and increased sustainable practices. 

 

The success of the project can be scaled up, shared with and applied to other similar regions in China and other countries through South-South cooperation. On the large scale, drip irrigation provides security to a region’s economic development by ensuring access to water and, consequently, productive yields. The establishment of water recycling facilities at sugar factories also proves important in reducing water use, ensuring cleaner rivers, and improving conditions for biodiversity. On the micro scale, drip irrigation and water recycling facilities have allowed for improved sanitation and hygiene practices in the home of Qin and increased yield in sugarcane production for Li. Now, in the dry months of the year, Li and his wife no longer need to trek three kilometers for the sake of water. Instead, with a turn of a valve, his sugarcane fields will be able to thrive.