During our survey of leaders and water managers in more than 400 villages, we discovered that there are many types of water-savings technologies being used in northern China. For the purposes of this chapter, the term water-saving technology encompasses a wide variety of irrigation techniques and agricultural production practices. For analytical convenience, we have divided the list of technologies into three groups: traditional, household-based and community-based. In the rest of the chapter, we are excluding any discussion of a series of novel water-saving technologies (e.g. drip, intermittent irrigation, and chemicals and drugs) because across our sample, they had very low levels of adoption (i.e. nearly zero).
Our use of the term 'water-saving' is limited to perceived field-level applied irrigation savings. We understand that in the case of many technologies that we are considering, their adoption may not save water when net water use is measured on a basin scale. The real, or basin-wide, water-saving properties of each technology depend not only on the technical features of the technology, but also on the hydrology of the system and the economic adjustments to production that are associated with adoption of the technology.
Traditional technologies include border and furrow irrigation and field levelling. We have grouped these technologies because they are widely adopted and because village leaders in a majority of villages report adopting these techniques well before the beginning of agricultural reform in the early 1980s. These irrigation methods have relatively low fixed costs and are separable in the sense that one farm household can adopt the practice independent of the action of neighbours.
Household-based technologies include plastic sheeting, drought-resistant varieties, retain stubble/low till and surface-level plastic irrigation pipe. We have grouped these technologies because they are adopted by households (rather than villages or groups of households), have relatively low fixed costs and are highly divisible. Typically, adoption of these technologies is more recent than adoption of the traditional technologies.
Community-based technologies include underground pipe systems, lined canals and sprinkler systems. We have grouped these technologies because they tend to be adopted by communities or groups of households rather than by individual households. In most applications, they have large fixed costs and often require collective action or ongoing coordination of multiple households.
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