Field Projects

TCP/CPR/2907- 3101 (A)

Fodder production and double cropping in Tibet


In Tibet, counties in the lower and middle reaches of the Yalong Tsangpo River and the middle reaches of the Lhasa River (Dazi, Qushui, Duilong, Gongka, Naidong, Zhanang and Qiongjie) have a relatively high population density. The area is predominantly one of food grain production with about 80 percent of the cropping area under barley and wheat, and the area has a grain surplus. On the other hand, although farmers raise livestock such as cattle, sheep and pigs, there is a considerable regional deficit in livestock products.

Lack of quality fodder, especially during winter, is a major limiting factor in improving livestock production. During winter, there are very few areas where animals can graze. A survey of available livestock feed in Gongka and Linzhou indicated that more than 70 percent of the available non-alpine feed was straw and stover with very low quality, especially in terms of protein, for stock to meet their dietary needs. This reliance on poor quality crop residues results in many animals being undernourished and weak by spring time. The typical cycle has been to fatten cattle in summer in an attempt to carry them (often in very thin condition) through the winter and spring period when little feed is available. One attempt to increase feed intake has been the use of urea treatment of straw and the feeding of concentrates, which at least ensures survival but with little production.

In order to sustain food grain production while increasing fodder production in an area where the arable land is limited, there is urgent need to increase the land utilization rate by introducing a double cropping system such as winter barley or winter wheat followed by high yielding, nitrogen-fixing fodder crops. Winter barley and winter wheat are sown in early October and mature in the following July. After the harvest of winter barley and early maturing winter wheat, there is a potential fodder growing period of at least three months (mid-July, August, September to mid-October) in the double cropping areas (with an altitude of < 3650 m where only one grain crop - either barley or wheat is planted) which are currently being underutilized. Adjusting cropping systems to make full use of the growing season (or available water) is usually low cost and allows farmers to increase their income with relatively modest inputs. The rainfall in the period July to September is nearly 70 percent of the annual total and the first frost in this region starts usually around 15 October. The double cropping system would also be an innovative approach that may help both to maintain the grain production level while increasing high quality fodder production.

Initial trials in the region have shown that late maturing winter wheat usually yields about four to six tonnes/hectare that is 15 to 20 percent higher than spring wheat production (3.5 tonnes/hectare on average). In these trials early maturing winter wheat (maturing in July) yielded more than 4.5 tonnes/hectare, and in some cases it reached about five tonnes/hectare. When winter wheat matures before the rainy season, the grain quality is much better than the late maturing one. Introduction of high-yielding good grain quality winter wheat could be an innovative approach to pursue improved marketability of wheat and increased income generation from wheat cultivation. Additionally, early  maturing winter wheat increases the growing window for the subsequent fodder crop within the year, ensuring benefits for both maintaining the wheat production and improving feed quality and increasing fodder production for the winter period.

Winter barley was introduced to this area in the 1980s and many farmers have been growing winter barley. The average yield of winter barley is usually 10 to 15 percent higher than that of spring barley (3.5 tonnes/hectare on average). The total profit from cultivating winter barley, if followed by a fodder crop, could be doubled compared with the spring barley. 

As both rainfall and water are available for irrigation and the temperature is favourable, and provided the fodder crop is protected from free livestock grazing, high yields can be achieved of nitrogen-fixing legumes such as peas, Jiashewandou (a kind of pea), beans and fodder oats with accompanying legume crops, and other crops such as turnip, fodder-beet, etc. can be grown for producing high quality fodder.

The expansion of livestock production and the numbers of entrepreneurs involved in livestock raising in the lower and middle reaches of the Yalong Tsangpo River is increasing in response to local government encouragement, but is still limited by the amount of good quality feed available over the winter and spring period. The double-cropping system is still a potential solution that requires technical assistance and advice and new cultivars and crop varieties to be able to demonstrate it to farmers. New fodder crops and new cultivars/varieties of traditional fodder crops and of winter barley and wheat are needed as well as assistance for improving the management of the more complex cropping systems. With the TCP assistance it is expected that double-cropping systems based on winter barley and winter wheat will be the means to finding the solution to the problem of lack of winter feed for livestock as well as to increasing feed and food production per unit of land. The initial target for double cropping area is of 3 000 ha which would potentially benefit 9 000 farm families. These farmers are considered some of the poorest in China. Expected benefits will include:

  • production of both food grain and fodder from the same land area and increased total biomass production per unit of land;
  • production of improved fodder and thus livestock production to meet the increasing demand;
  • improved soil fertility through biological nitrogen fixation;
  • improved livelihoods and food security.

The Government of Tibet has selected the area of forage and fodder production in central Tibet as one of the top priorities for boosting livestock production. While the government emphasizes the issue of food security, particularly grain production, the need now is to balance this by increasing production of livestock, which is becoming a key issue. With limited areas of arable land, the focus on double cropping to increase fodder production has a high priority. The project will focus on screening and selecting fodder crops as well as assessing wheat and barley varieties, on working with farmers to evaluate technology packages and on capacity building both in TARI and GSAT to set the stage for wide extension of successful technologies. The Government of Tibet will make available the necessary resources to ensure that the key technologies emerging from the project are fully extended to farmers.


The main objectives of the project were:

  • Increased awareness of the benefits of a double cropping system in Tibet
  • Evaluation of the most promising double cropping production technologies, including fodder crops and wheat and barley cultivars, under local conditions;
  • On-farm demonstrations implemented of the best adapted double cropping production technologies;
  • Researchers, extension officers and lead farmers trained on double cropping production technologies, crop varieties and participatory methodologies;
  • Formulation of a medium-term programme with time-bound objectives for sustainable double cropping production technologies in this region of Tibet.


The project outputs were expected to be:

  • appropriate fodder crop, wheat and barley varieties identified;
  • double cropping systems demonstrated with appropriate wheat, barley and fodder crop varieties that considerably increase total biomass and grain production and provide winter fodder;
  • technology packages for sustainable production of double cropping systems developed;
  • 20 researchers or extension agents trained on double cropping production technologies and on farmers participatory methods;
  • 100 farmers trained on appropriate double cropping production technologies through on-farm demonstrations;
  • a training manual on double cropping technologies for this region of Tibet;
  • medium-term programme with time-bound objectives for sustainable double cropping production technologies in this region of Tibet.


First missions were fielded in May/June 2004 and an intensive programme of field work and further visits by national and international consultants took place in 2004 and 2005. As progress was slowed by various factors a 12 month project extension (Phase II – TCP/CPR/3101) was approved for 2006. The final visit by international and national consultants took place in late September 2006 for the Final Workshop at which the Training Manual on Fodder Production and Double Cropping in Tibet was presented and a document entitled Contributions towards a Medium Term Plan was prepared and discussed.


The projects were implemented from 2004-2006, with simultaneous research, demonstration and training activities on three main themes:

  • introduction, evaluation and selection of winter barley and wheat varieties for early maturity as well as high yield and quality;
  • introduction and development of tillage systems and associated agronomy to shorten times and reduce costs for establishment of both the fodder crop as a second crop and the main autumn cereal crop; and
  • evaluation of fodder crops for double cropping including both pure fodder crops and dual purpose crops; and development of fodder conservation and feeding systems.

Awareness raising of the benefits of a double cropping system in Tibet focused on working with research and extension staff as well as farmers to introduce the concepts of and feasibility of double cropping in Tibet. Emphasis on extension of double cropping for fodder production needs to be continued under the new 5 Year Plan, with full involvement of all stakeholders.

Evaluation of promising double cropping production technologies placed emphasis on on-station observation and evaluation trials for new lines of winter barley, wheat and fodder crops; experiments and demonstrations of tillage methods and systems, and methods for forage conservation. While double cropping of cereals and fodder is feasible, the fodder crop needs to be planted by mid-July to ensure good yields. New varieties of naked winter barley were tested over two years, but all varieties were 2-4 weeks later than the variety Dongqing No.1 currently used for double cropping, which matures in early July. However yields of Dongqing No.1 are only two thirds those of varieties of longer duration. Barley breeders need to look for existing lines of winter barley with the earliness of Dongqing No.1 but with higher yield; and to accelerate an on-going breeding programme to achieve this objective. The collection of winter wheat varieties introduced by the project from CIMMYT contained a number of early maturing (July 15) high yielding varieties, but farmers inspecting the plots rejected these due to their short straw. All medium to long strawed varieties matured in late July or early August, which restricts double cropping to relay sowing and inter-cropping. The project introduced a number of new fodder crops through observation and evaluation trials, and their screening and evaluation needs taking further. Several promising fodder crops have been identified that also act as break crops, including pure crops such as the annual vetch and biennial / perennials such as melilotus and lucerne; and also dual purpose annual crops such as turnips and radish, peas and broad beans, and buckwheat and maize. Reduced and zero tillage systems were introduced and evaluated against traditional tillage with seed broadcast or drilled. Successive crops of winter cereals and fodder crops were established on the same plots using the same methods. Drilling was clearly superior to broadcasting seeds; and reduced tillage improved establishment of vetch compared to ploughing due to improved moisture availability when weather was dry at planting in July. Good operational practice is needed for successful reduced tillage, but the systems do have the ability to reliably establish vetch as a second crop with a yield of 4-5 tons dry matter/ha of high quality fodder from a single pass of machinery. Good weed control in or following the preceding cereal crop is essential. Improved knapsack sprayers with multi-nozzle spray bars were introduced, and herbicides were evaluated against broadleaved and grassy weeds.

Fodder oat is a crop that requires introduction of new germplasm and trials in combination with vetch and peas.

A missing element fertilizer trial for major elements was held on winter wheat in Naidong county. There is serious concern that potassium reserves have been depleted following many years of cereal cultivation with high levels of nitrogen and phosphorous fertilizer use, total removal of crop residues, and minimal return of animal manures. Soil samples analysed to date confirm low levels of available K and Mo, but also indicate high Ca and soil pH.

Fodder produced in double cropping systems needs to be conserved at a time when drying potential in autumn is declining. Hay making and silage making are options for conservation. The scale of operation of silage making needs to match the rate of feeding out to reduce spoilage at that time. Little Bag Silage suitable for smallholders with one or two crossbred cows was prepared with plastic bags holding 5 kg of green fodder, but the bags available were not strong enough. Silage was subsequently made successfully in 40 litre plastic barrels that hold 20-25 kg green fodder.

On-farm demonstrations of the best adapted double cropping production technologies yielded mixed results largely because researchers, extension workers and farmers were inadequately trained in participatory methods. Moving from a single to a double cropping system represents for a farmer a total change from traditional practices, requires additional inputs and involves risks. While farmers are interested in reduced tillage methods to reduce costs of establishment for main cereal crops much more training and early involvement is required to appreciate all aspects of the new technology. It is important that in future farmers are fully involved in ongoing technical trials and demonstrations so that they feel ownership and buy into the new technologies and systems being proposed. Farmer participatory approaches need to be adopted in all station research, on-farm research and extension programmes.

Training of researchers, extension officers and lead farmers was emphasized throughout the project. In particular the focus was on a number of young scientists some of whom now work in a new Division of Cultivation and Biology within the Tibet Agricultural Research Institute which will continue to work on double cropping for fodder production. More training is required at the extension and farmer level and with a greater focus on participatory methods. One of the major project outputs was a training manual - Training Manual on Fodder Production and Double Cropping in Tibet – parts were translated into Chinese and tested with participants of the Final Workshop prior to finalization and printing.

Formulation of a Medium-Term Programme - at the conclusion of the project a Final Workshop was held for major stakeholders who contributed through participatory group and plenary sessions to the formulation of a Medium Term Plan to carry activities on double cropping for fodder production forward for the next five years. These contributions were consolidated and expanded in the form of a document entitled Contributions towards a Medium Term Plan so that the material can be utilized in terms of implementing the overall (new) Government 5-Year Plan for Tibet.

Broad (faba) bean foliage drying for winter feed
A (double-) crop of turnips after cereals
A (double-) crop of vetch growing in cereal stubble
Turnips harvested for winter (human) food and (livestock) feed
Inspecting a crop of beet

Straw for winter feed
TAAAS, TARI and the FAO project organisers have identified a series of actions to increase land utilisation rates through double and relay cropping systems that are aimed at increasing the production of good quality winter and spring fodder and grains, improving livestock performance and livelihoods, and promoting food security.
Photo: Keith Armstrong
There is a extensive array of irrigation channels throughout the river valleys around Lhasa. Winters are dry, with a summer monsoonal rainfall pattern and very high sunshine hours.
Photo: Keith Armstrong
Four wheel tractors are preferred over two wheel ones, and are now commonplace for land cultivation and as power sources for driving grain threshers and winnowers.
Photo: Keith Armstrong
Feed conservation will also be a focus. Stubble turnips are commonly grown and fed fresh, or air dried and stored for winter feeding of livestock.
Photo: Keith Armstrong
Cooking fuel made from straw and animal dung. Animal and cropping systems are inextricably linked.
Photo: Keith Armstrong
Yak (above) and sheep (below) grazing on the high plateau north of Lhasa.
Photo: Keith Armstrong
International consultants for project TCP/CPR/2907 outside their hotel in Lhasa.
Photo: Keith Armstrong
Vetch after cereals at Qushui near Lhasa, Tibet
Photo: S. Reynolds
Vetch after cereals with two different sowing dates for the vetch
Photo: S. Reynolds
Forage observation/evaluation plots in Lhasa, Tibet
Photo: S. Reynolds
A good stand of vetch
Photo: S. Reynolds