The farmers of the Asian monsoon region have traditionally practiced forms of rice cultivation uniquely adapted to the climate of the region, which is characterized by annual precipitation far in excess of the global average of 800 mm and clearly delineated wet and dry seasons. In this region, water is used dynamically as part of a larger cycle embracing the whole catchment basin, from its upper to lower reaches. This is markedly different from the pattern of water utilization observed in dryland irrigation farming, which uses water to the last drop, or in static water-delivery paddy farming in arid and semi-arid regions. Rice is a staple food crop in much of Asia and on other continents, yet rice paddy cultivation has been criticized as a wasteful consumer of water. This paper counters this criticism by pointing out how that form of agriculture skillfully harnesses the Asian monsoon region's dynamic hydrologic features. It goes on to identify factors that will need to be taken into consideration, such as appropriate water transfer to other sectors of society during water shortages, in order to facilitate sustainable development of paddy irrigation in the coming era of water shortages.
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