Rainwater harvesting agriculture (RHA), which was first developed by scientists in Gansu province over a decade ago, is an integrated system for water management on rainfed land in semiarid areas. This system consists of three main components including rainwater harvesting system, water-saving irrigation system, and highly effective crop production system. Its main function is to provide farmers in water-limiting environments with access to the water needed to meet domestic and agricultural water needs. The preliminary implementation of RHA in Gansu and other provinces in northwest China suggests that RHA has the potential to improve performance in rainfed farming systems and to address environmental problems such as soil erosion. The small-scale and low cost of RHA systems make application by household farmers simple. However, to be successful RHA needs to be integrated in a comprehensive agricultural-management system; i.e. management of RHA must be combined with other agricultural technologies and management practices. In addition, the spread of RHA over large areas entails consideration of a range of technological, agrohydrological, ecological, social, cultural, economic, and political factors. In particular, there is a need to provide training and extension services to farmers, to develop and disseminate more effective and affordable types of RHA technologies as alternatives and to design and develop alternative policy instruments and social institutions that facilitate adoption of RHA practices.
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