While General Secretary Hu Jintao was engaged in international diplomacy in the United States, Premier Wen Jiabao was visiting parched wheat fields in Henan Province. Against the background of Henan's serious drought, Wen signaled that this year's big emphasis will be on improving irrigation infrastructure. Indications are that this will be the centerpiece of this year's "No. 1 Document" on rural policy to be released in February.
This year northern China has been experiencing varying degrees of drought. On January 22, Premier Wen visited a high-yield wheat demonstration area in Hebi City of Henan to see the drought mitigation work being carried out there.
Guo Tiancai, a professor at Henan Agricultural University, told Premier Wen that the area had a soaking rain in the fall and the soil moisture is not bad. However, after only 3 cm of precipitation in 100 days drought conditions are serious. An experts group convened to look at the issue thinks that there probably will not be rainfall before mid-February and conditions could become very serious. The only thing to do is to pour water on the wheat fields.
Later that day, Premier Wen rode an hour by car to another wheat demonstration district in Anyang. There, he sat and talked with the peasants about their income, production, medical care and other issues. He told the villagers that this year the government will concentrate on irrigation construction and the rural road network. Farmers will see better days year after year.
Late in the day on january 22, Premier Wen was back in Hebi City where he held a meeting to urge everyone to make drought mitigation the focus of their work since spring is not far off. He said lagging irrigation infrastructure is a big constraint on agricultural development and national grain security. Better irrigation infrastructure can improve production capacity.
Apparently, the Chinese people should look not to heaven for their daily bread, but under the ground. Pumping more water out of underground aquifers will keep the wheat growing, at least for a while.