Capacity building in improved management of alfalfa in the southern
mountainous areas of Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region
Contributions toward a medium term plan to sustain and enhance alfalfa production in Ningxia
[Output from the Final Workshop “Development of a Medium
Term Plan” held Saturday 24th October 2009,
The southern mountainous region of the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region (“Ningxia”) is confronted with numerous sociological, economical and ecological issues. An area of eight counties in southern Ningxia is one of the poorest regions in China; 75% of the population is engaged with agriculture and per capita incomes are 52% lower than the national average. Rainfed crop farming and livestock herding are the principle sources of livelihood. The hilly loess areas in the southern end of Ningxia receive 300 to 500 mm of annual precipitation, and farming has proceeded on terraces for many centuries. Immediately north of the loess hills, the soils are sandy or gravelly, in an area that receives less than 300 mm of annual precipitation. With population growth, vast areas of grasslands in Ningxia and western China have been converted to grain production for food. This in turn led to overgrazing of the remaining grasslands, and severe erosion particularly in the hilly loess zone.
Implementation of the Western Development Program has had major impacts in reversing environmental degradation in Ningxia. The major policies enacted were the restriction of open livestock grazing and conversion of cropland back to grassland and forage production. Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) was widely planted in southern Ningxia from 2000 through 2002, due to its recognition as a very productive, high-quality crop with very good soil stabilization and soil-building features. Specifically, rainfed alfalfa produces 4 times to 8 times the level of forage grown on native grasslands. Alfalfa is a perennial legume that fixes biological nitrogen, and it is superior to annual crop cultivation on fragile soils or steep slopes.
It is anticipated that by 2010, up to 300 000 hectares of alfalfa would be established on about 35% of the arable land area. In short, alfalfa has great potential to improve feedstuff levels for confined livestock production, sale as a cash crop, and to capitalize on rotational benefits with other crops. Despite the high expectations, there are numerous challenges to alfalfa production in southern Ningxia. Grain farmers and herders lack knowledge of agronomic techniques or management of the numerous disease, insect and rodent pests of alfalfa.
The FAO/Peoples Republic of China project TCP/CPR/3104(D) was initiated
in 2007 with the overall objectives to: i. increase awareness of the benefits
of alfalfa as a livestock forage and in sustainable crop rotations, ii.
identify suitable alfalfa varieties and ensure their adequate availability,
iii. extend improved alfalfa management practices (crop rotation, variety
choice, sowing method, soil fertility, weed control, harvest timing, proper
haymaking and storage, etc.) and pest and disease management by integrated
pest management (IPM) methods, iv. engage local practitioners and farmers
in participatory demonstrations of improved alfalfa agronomy and IPM methods
and v. develop a medium-term strategy to sustain future alfalfa production
in Ningxia. The duration of the project was from September 2007 through
December 2009. Funding from the Food and Agriculture Organization supported
the fielding of alfalfa and pest management experts from Ningxia bureaus
(2), national (2) and international (4) agencies. The primary project
outputs were intensive training courses, applied field demonstrations,
2. SOME FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS FROM PROJECT TCP/CPR/3104(D)
A. The current alfalfa situation and production practices in Ningxia have been thoroughly assessed by local, national and international experts. There is a wealth of information available in existing Ningxia publications, research stations, and the pest monitoring system. Two in-depth surveys during the project provided very relevant data on farmer demographics, practices and needs.
B. Alfalfa has been grown in Ningxia for over 1000 years, however many grain farmers and livestock herders lack basic cultural methods for raising alfalfa.
C. Alfalfa stands sown in 2000 – 2002 have declined to low levels of productivity.
D. Ningxia must prepare for large-scale alfalfa planting immediately. This will include high demand for published information on alfalfa agronomy, IPM and large quantities of high-quality seed.
E. There are many damaging pests of alfalfa prevalent in Ningxia, including rodents, insects and diseases. Newer alfalfa varieties have genetic resistance to several diseases and insects, but more aggressive control measures are needed for control of rodents and other pests.
F. A good alfalfa variety testing system is in place in Ningxia, and nine varieties are now recommended for forage production. However, the infrastructure for seedstock production must be developed. Suitable environments for large-scale alfalfa seed production are in irrigated sites in central and northern Ningxia.
G. Ningxia bureaus should assist private companies’ efforts to develop commercial seed production of the nine alfalfa varieties recommended for forage production. Strategies for agronomic (seeding rate, planting in wide rows, pollinators), weed and pest management are specifically needed for alfalfa seed production.
H. Due to dry conditions in 2008 and 2009, alfalfa prices are very high. This has resulted in alfalfa being the most valuable cash crop in southern Ningxia, but concerns exist for affordable feed supplies for livestock.
I. With high forage values and declining alfalfa stands, there is significant interest by farmers and county staff in southern Ningxia for the project’s field demonstration trials, the training program and the website and publication – the Alfalfa Management Guide for Ningxia.
J. The TCP project installed several relevant on-farm demonstration trials of “best-bet” varieties, pre-plant fertilizer, alfalfa sown with or without buckwheat or millet, and a cutting method trial in Pengyang County. Most of the trials are fairly well established, but due to the dry conditions have yielded limited data to date. County staff are encouraged to follow through with these field trials; hands-on demonstrations are widely needed to move farmers to advanced methods.
K. In 2008 and 2009, 51 technical staff in Pengyang and Yanchi Counties completed an intensive 55 to 60-day training course, called “training of trainers” (TOT). Curricula included all agronomic topics of crop rotation, site preparation, variety selection, fertilization, sowing method, weed control, harvest timing, haymaking, storage and utilization, and seed production. Major pests and their lifecycles were taught, as well as control strategies, beneficial agents and integrated pest management (IPM) strategies. The course was taught by the participatory learning process, which involved classroom and field investigations, data collection and group discussions. In 2009, four facilitators were trained in each county for future TOT and farmer training.
L. Twelve county staff participated in two in-country tours to Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Liaoning and Shandong Provinces to view alfalfa production systems and research efforts.
M. In 2009, farmer field schools (FFS) were provided for 258 farmers in 10 Yanchi County villages. The schools consisted of one-day sessions offered for seven consecutive weeks. The FFS curriculum topics and participatory learning were similar to the training course for trainers.
N. The TOT and FFS curricula and participatory training process were well-received by technicians and farmers. The TCP project provided significant staff resources (national and Ningxia experts) that likely cannot be replicated at the same level. Therefore, counties and bureaus should adapt the participatory learning process for alfalfa agronomy, IPM and other agriculture issues. Two manuals to be published – Alfalfa Management Guide for Ningxia and the Training Manual for Participatory Learning in Alfalfa Agronomy and IPM – are relevant documents for future education and extension.
O. Based on the current alfalfa situation in Ningxia, the project’s timeliness and the successful implementation of this medium term plan are very critical to sustain alfalfa production.
3. DEMOGRAPHCS AND NEED OF FARMERS IN SOUTHERN NINGXIA - SUMMARY OF BASELING SURVEYS
Baseline surveys of 96 farmers in Pengyang and Yanchi Counties were conducted in 2008 and 2009. The surveys were performed by county staff who were trained to interview farmers by a standard method without biasing the responses. The questionnaire consisted of 72 questions regarding current alfalfa production conditions, and knowledge and attitudes of alfalfa crop management and pest prevention and control. Some highlights of the survey are shown below (note that some data do not sum to 100% due to the format of the question).
A. Household structure and farm enterprises
B. Current alfalfa production
C. Current knowledge/attitudes about alfalfa crop management, and pest and disease control
D. Expectations and reception of new alfalfa knowledge or technology
4. TCP PROJECT RESPONSES TO MEET FARMER NEEDS TO SUSTAIN ALFALFA PRODUCTION IN NINGXIA
At the Final Workshop of TCP/CPR/3104(D), 21 workshop participants conducted a plenary session to draft strategies for the medium term. The group consisted of 12 members of the FAO team from the NPC office, consultants and backstopping officers, and nine county officers or technicians from four counties. After a thorough review of the project activities and achievements, a participatory group process was used to itemize existing conditions in Ningxia relative to the needs of farmers. The large group was subdivided into smaller discussion groups which conducted SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities) analyses. One group considered research and technology packages needed by farmers in the medium term (next 5 years), and the other group addressed training and education assistance needed by farmers in the medium term. The small groups reconvened to discuss and refine the responses shown in Table 1. Most workshop participants have taught or been trained by group participatory learning methods, so the discussion was dynamic and energetic.
Several major themes arose from the SWOT analyses:
|5. DEVELOPMENT OF A MEDIUM TERM PLAN TO SUSTAIN
AND ENHANCE ALFALFA PRODUCTION IN NINGXIA
At the completion of the plenary session during the TCP workshop, the 21 participants proposed a set of recommended actions that should occur in the next five years toward developing a medium term plan. The group exercises progressed under the assumption that the medium term plan should both “sustain” and “improve” alfalfa productivity. The planning exercise immediately followed the SWOT analyses in Item 4 (above). Participants were asked to propose actions by farmers, counties and the Ningxia government (“province”) that should occur to address the weaknesses and threats (identified in Table 1) for meeting the needs of farmers relative to research/technology packages and training/education in the next five years. Participants submitted anonymous cards, and a spokesman led a discussion to categorize the responses (by responsible party – farmer/village, county or province level) and to refine and record the responses. This activity resulted in a consensus document of 23 recommendations that should be undertaken for the medium term plan (Table 2). Due to time constraints, the entire group was unable to prioritize all recommendations, and the ranking of the actions shown in Table 2 was provided by three FAO team members.
6. IMPLEMENTATION OF THE MEDIUM TERM PLAN TO SUSTAIN AND ENHANCE ALFALFA PRODUCTION
The TCP project installed relevant field demonstrations and delivered an excellent training program for trainers (TOT) and farmers (FFS) in all topics of alfalfa crop and pest management in southern Ningxia. Two manuals – Alfalfa Management Guide for Ningxia and the Training Manual for Participatory Learning in Alfalfa Agronomy and IPM – are being published, and they will also be hosted on a new website.
The 21 workshop members who developed the recommended actions for the
Medium Term Plan (Table 2) represent a diverse cross-section of alfalfa,
grassland or livestock specialists and managers from four Ningxia counties,
three provincial bureaus, and two national and two international organizations.
Upon completion of the TCP project in December 2009, this document should
be circulated widely for comments by additional county and provincial
staff. The participatory group process should be used to adopt a “Medium
Term Plan to Sustain and Enhance Alfalfa Production in Ningxia” by
consensus of a wide audience.