Water and land resources (WLR) are two of the most vital resources in agricultural and
food production systems. The situation of WLR is tied up with security and stability of food
production in China. Recently, the conflict between demands of WLR due to the population
growth and economic development and its inherent characteristics with scarcity and limitation
is increasing, so that WLR management has been paid more attention by scientists，especially
in arid areas where issues related to WLR utilization are more obvious.
The scope of arid areas in Northwest China (NW) is vast. It has abundant resources of
light, solar and land, and thus is an important reserve base of food production in China.
However, the landscape is characterized by a unique morphological complexity consisting of
mountains, basins, plain, deserts, and rivers in NW. Moreover, regional differentiation
characteristics including geographical and socio-economic differences are obvious.
Correspondingly, identifying and understanding geographical characteristics and the
conditions of agricultural water and land resources utilization (AWLRU) is the precondition
for the goal of achieving the effective and sustainable utilization of AWLR. It can contribute
to formulating the more effective measures and planning for AWLR management.
Based on the current data and technology/tools, this study identified dry/wet climatic
zones by applying theories and methods in the fields of geography, climatology and statistics,
and the scope of arid areas of NW was delimited. Next, we developed a general framework
for designing and selecting indicators of AWLRU zoning, and then established the zoning
scheme of AWLRU in arid areas of NW. Then, a systematic method was advanced to help to
understand the matching and scarcity characteristics of AWLR. Based on it, we analyzed the matching situation of AWLR in arid areas of NW, and further discussed measures for
achieving reasonable matching situation of AWLR. The final goal of this study was to provide
the theoretical basis for proposing and establishing the effective and sustainable utilization
mode of ALWR. The following main conclusions can be drawn:
(1) This study delimited the scope of arid areas of NW.
In view of the shortcoming and disagreement on the scope of arid areas of NW in
previous studies, we identified the dry/wet climatic characteristics by applying the
multi-variable statistical analysis based on the last 30 years (1981–2010) in this study.
Meanwhile, it made a further definition and explanation on the concept of arid areas and its
types. Based on this, we defined the scope of arid areas of NW, and analyzed differences
between the current and traditional methods. Results showed that major terrain features were
important components of boundaries among different climate regions. It indicated that
divisional boundaries appeared to be greatly influenced by natural features or barriers
Meanwhile, the concept of arid areas was defined as water-deficient areas induced by
resource scarcity and characterized by climatological drought. Its types included arid,
semi-arid and dry sub-humid regions. The scope of arid areas of NW is: the whole area of four
provinces, including Xinjiang, Qinghai, Gansu and Ningxia, and regions of Guanzhong Plain,
north Shaanxi and the Inner Mongolia Plateau. The total area is 3.69×10 6 km 2 , accounting for
38.4% of China.
(2) This study developed a general framework for designing and selecting
indicators of AWLRU zoning.
Based on the understanding of related theories and meaning of AWLRU, we designed the
framework including five attributes or layers in AWLRU system by combining the
supply–demand (SD) theory with the DPSIR (Driver–Pressure–State–Impact–Response)
model. They are supply capacity, demand level, exploration and utilization level, utilization
status and limiting factors, respectively. Bayan Nur of Inner Mongolia was selected as the
case study to understand the application of the proposed framework and confirm its
reasonability. Results indicated that divisions of AWLRU had obvious differences depending
on the effects of the Yellow River and Yinshan Mountains. Divisions were drawn clearly from
west to east and from south to north. It indicated that the AWLRU zoning was bound up with water supply. The case study demonstrated the practicality and reasonability of the proposed
framework. The proposed framework could guide the establishment of indicators and
identification of characteristics of AWLR zoning.
(3) This study identified the zoning characteristics of AWLRU in arid areas of NW.
Based on the principles of selecting indicators, this paper took cities as basic units to
define values of zoning indicators. By combining the Principle Components Analysis (PCA)
and Cluster Analysis (CA), the zoning scheme of AWLRU in arid areas of NW was
established. Meanwhile, according to investigation and comprehensive analysis, we
understood and compared the characteristics of AWLRU, and summed up the basic laws on its
spatial pattern and utilization directions. Results indicated that four types of divisions of
AWLRU were identified: irrigated farming regions, dry-farming agricultural regions with the
comprehensive characteristics of farming and pasture, the industrial and mining districts with
non-advantages for developing agriculture, and mountains and hills areas depending on
forestry and livestock farming but also including agriculture. Among zoning indicators, the
rate of irrigated arable and fertilizer consumption per arable land were two most important
factors affecting the development mode, direction and outputs of AWLR.
Results also indicated that irrigated farming regions mainly distributed in basins and
plains where water supply is sufficient and land is fertile, whereas agriculture was developed
towards the direction of forestry and livestock farming in regions with mountains, hills and
ravines due to the low availability of land resources. Under the condition of water scarcity, the
arable region was developed as the dry-farming cultivated mode. In regions that land resource
is poor but mineral resources are abundance, regional economic development was dominated
by industry and mineral industry due to the effects of comparative advantages. It further
indicated that location advantage, resource advantage and geographical differentiation played
an important role in the process of development and utilization of AWLR.
(4) The matching and scarcity characteristics of ALWR were measured and
evaluated. Measures and ways for achieving the reasonable matching situation of AWLR
were put forwards in this study.
From the view of generalized agricultural water resources, we analyzed the spatial
matching characteristics of AWLR and relationship between the components of agricultural water resources and matching index of AWLR. By combining resource equivalency analysis,
we established an evaluation method measuring the severity of resources shortage. Results
indicated that the matching index of AWLR was high in irrigated farming regions with arid
climate, and it is low in dry-farming regions characterized by rain-fed agriculture and
livestock farming. Besides, the higher the ratio of blue and green water is, the higher the
matching index of AWLR is. Thereinto, there was a positive correlation between blue water
and matching index of AWLR. When green water resource is about 350mm, the matching
index of AWLR is lowest.
There is a severe shortage of cultivated land in semi-arid climate region dominated by
dry farming, dry sub-humid region with rich precipitation and regions with sufficient melt
water resources. The matching index of AWLR and equivalent coefficient of AWLR were
higher in regions in extremely arid zone and arid zone, which is severe water shortage region.
It indicated that the distribution of AWLR was extremely uneven. It presented serious
separation between forming region and water-consumption region. Based on it, measures and
ways for achieving the reasonable matching situation of AWLR were put forwards.
Key words: Agricultural water and land resources; Wet/dry climate; Indicators; Matching;
Arid areas of NW