Agricultural water productivity assessment for the Yellow River Basin

Ximing Cai, Yi Chen E. Yang, Claudia Ringler, Jianshi Zhao, Liangzhi You

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Agricultural water productivity (WP) has been recognized as an important indicator of agricultural water management. This study assesses the WP for irrigated (WPI) and rainfed (WPR) crops in the Yellow River Basin (YRB) in China. WPI and WPR are calculated for major crops (corn, wheat, rice, and soybean) using experimental, statistical and empirically estimated data. The spatial variability of WPI and WRR is analyzed with regard to water and energy factors. Results show that although irrigated corn and soybean yields are significantly higher than rainfed yields in different regions of the YRB, WPI is slightly lower than WPR for these two crops. This can be explained by the seasonal coincidence of precipitation and solar energy patterns in the YRB. However, as expected, irrigation stabilizes crop production per unit of water consumption over space. WPI and WPR vary spatially from upstream to downstream in the YRB as a result of varying climate and water supply conditions. The water factor has stronger effects on both crop yield and WP than the energy factor in the upper and middle basin, whereas energy matters more in the lower basin. Moreover, WP in terms of crop yield is compared to that in terms of agricultural GDP and the results are not consistent. This paper contributes to the WP studies by a basin context, a comparison between WPI and WPR, a comparison of WP in terms of crop yield and economic value, and insights on the water and energy factors on WP. Moreover, policy implications based on the WP analysis are provided.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1297-1306
Number of pages10
JournalAgricultural Water Management
Issue number8
StatePublished - May 30 2011


  • Economic value of water
  • Irrigation
  • Rainfed crops
  • Water resources management
  • Water use efficiency

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Soil Science
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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