Across China, the appearance of salinized soil has been a widespread problem but, according to a number of sources, this problem has been improving in recent years, unlike many others. According to the Ministry of Water Resources and Nanjing Water Resources Institute (2004), more than 1 million square kilometers of China's land has become salinized over the past several decades. The majority of the most serious problems has occurred in the north-east, the northwest and in some places in the North China Plain. Despite the widespread nature of the problem, in recent years, the area affected by salinization has fallen. Ironically, it may be that the same forces diverting surface water away from agriculture and forcing producers to rely increasingly on groundwater may be the primary cause of such improvements. Without access to cheap and abundant surface water, which led to the salinized soil problem, the problem has gradually disappeared as farmers have turned to groundwater and the water table has fallen (Nickum, 1988).18
In our sample of villages, we find that the salinization of the soil is one of the most commonly reported problems, although, consistent with national statistics, it is improving over time. According to our respondents, in 2004, 16% of villages reported having some salinized soils. Since the process that caused the soil salinization does not affect all cultivated areas in a village, only 3.4% of cultivated area was reported to be affected. Moreover, the scope of soil salinization is improving over time. In 1995, 20% of villages reported salinized soils and 4.4% of cultivated area was affected. Hence, between 1995 and 2004, there was nearly a 25% reduction in the severity of the nation's soil salinization problem.
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