A sustainability assessment of five major food crops' water footprints in China from 1978 to 2010

Yuanhong Tian*, Matthias Ruth, Dajian Zhu, Jinfeng Ding, Nicholas Morris

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Rice, wheat, corn, soybeans, and sorghum are the five major crops in China, which account for 92% of the country's total grain production and 33% of its water consumption. Combining water footprint analysis tools with sustainability assessment tools, the water sustainability of the five major crops can be analyzed. Based on ecological economics theory, this paper constructs a sustainability evaluation system of China's five major crops' water footprints and analyzes the national and provincial diversity of the sustainability of the five major crops' water footprints using three dimensions: scale, distribution, and equity. We find that the interprovincial distribution equity sustainability divergence is the key bottleneck factor that restricts sustainability (more than scale and configuration). One key strategy is to arrange grain production at the national level, on the basis of considering the differences of water-resource endowment between different provinces to break through the bottleneck of the water-resource distribution sustainability of these five major food crops. This paper determines a general management model that can improve the sustainability of water resource management at the interprovincial level by comparing and analyzing the most sustainable and least sustainable provinces for the water footprint production of these five major crops.

Original languageEnglish
Article number6179
Number of pages20
JournalSustainability (Switzerland)
Issue number21
Publication statusPublished - 5 Nov 2019

Bibliographical note

© 2019 by the authors


  • Allocation efficiency
  • Distribution equity
  • Ecological economics
  • Food crops
  • Proper scale
  • Sustainability assessment
  • Water footprint

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