Developing modern and sustainable
alfalfa production systems
Capacity building in improved management of alfalfa in the southern mountainous areas of Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region
Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region is located in the hinterland of the western part of China. Hilly loess areas dominate the southern part, the Yellow River Plain occupies the central and northern parts, while it adjoins the Alashan Plateau in the West and the eastern part is formed by the Ge’erduosi plateau. The total land area is 51 800 square kilometres and the population in 2001 was 5.63 million. The southern mountainous areas include the eight counties of Xiji, Haiyuan, Guyuan, Longde, Pengyang, Jingyuan, Yanchi and Tongxin with a total land area of 39 000 square kilometres and an arable land area of 867 000 hectares. The population of the eight counties is 2.4 million, of which 75 percent is engaged in agriculture. The per capita average income of farmers in 2001 was 1 078 RMB Yuan, which was lower than the national and regional average. It is one of the poorest regions in China. The annual precipitation is < 300 to 500 mm while soil erosion is a serious problem. The vegetation coverage is extremely low and there is a severe problem of water supply. Crop farming and livestock are the traditional industries and the pillar industries of the local economy. Since the infrastructure facilities for agriculture and livestock are little developed, agriculture is completely rainfed and the farmers and herders rely completely on the rainfall. Rapid population growth and demand for grains has caused uncontrolled land reclamation, extensive crop production and overgrazing and general deterioration of the ecological environment and poverty. Under present conditions agricultural development is no longer sustainable.
Ningxia is one of the autonomous regions and provinces to implement the Western Development Programme initiated and supported by the Chinese Government. One of the important measures is to strengthen the healthy development of the ecological environment, to return cropland to pasture and forest in order to improve the ecological environment and the basis for sustainable social and economic development. The Government of Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region realized that planting and development of alfalfa (Medicago sativa) is an important strategic measure in improving the ecological environment of the region while raising the living standard of the rural population. It is also an effective measure to adjust agricultural structure, promote the development of livestock and help farmers and herders to shake off poverty. The economic return for alfalfa is significantly higher than that of wheat or corn. Planting alfalfa on slopes can also effectively control soil erosion and improve the ecological environment. Farmers and herders in these areas regard alfalfa as very important for their prosperity. Therefore, the Government of Ningxia lists the development of alfalfa as one of its most important agricultural development programmes. It is planned that, by 2010, the area of alfalfa in the southern mountainous areas of Ningxia will reach 300 000 hectares accounting for 34.6 percent of the total arable land area. By 2002, the acreage of alfalfa in these areas had reached 163 000 hectares while 272 000 households were engaged in the production of alfalfa. The statistics for 2002 indicated that the fresh alfalfa output reached 22 500 kg/hectare while the output value was 3 300 RMB Yuan/hectare. The net profit of each hectare of alfalfa was as much as 2,700 RMB Yuan and it was estimated that over 60 percent of local farmers and herders can increase their income through planting alfalfa.
However, although the large-scale production of alfalfa has brought about certain economic returns and ecological effects, the substantial increase and expansion of the same crop over a large area has also created major problems in terms of various serious outbreaks of pests and diseases of alfalfa. The damage caused by pests has increased year by year. The rapid and severe pest and disease occurrence affecting large areas of alfalfa caught farmers and herders by surprise and since they lacked pest control techniques and means, great losses have been caused. Over 80 percent of the fields lost over 50 percent of the normal production while 10 percent of the land failed to produce any harvest; over 130 000 households were affected.
The main reasons for such rampant disease and pest breakouts are:
In the absence of good agronomic techniques and a wider alfalfa genetic base, the response in many cases has been to control pests with highly toxic pesticides, often applied at the wrong time and which not only failed to control the pest problems, but also caused farmer and herder health problems as well as serious environmental pollution. There is therefore an urgent need to address these issues by focusing firstly on widening the alfalfa genetic base through the introduction, selection, testing and use of disease resistant varieties that are adapted to the harsh rainfed conditions in these semi-arid areas and also through the local, participatory adaptation of improved agronomic techniques. Also important are the role of appropriate agronomic practices such as cutting frequency and calendar, sward renovation, cereal/alfalfa rotations, and nutrient management. To obtain a sustainable intensification of cropping systems a combination of improved management practices and the right genetic base of crops must be adopted. Pest problems arising from large-scale cultivation of one crop (alfalfa) can also be addressed through integrated pest management measures with biological control as a focal point plus monitoring and forecast systems for alfalfa pests to guide the farmers in appropriate and timely control measures. This project therefore addresses the basic need of crop intensification promoting the introduction of suited alfalfa varieties and improved agronomic techniques to increase production of hay and cereals while minimizing pest and disease losses.
Failure to resolve the problem will not only seriously affect the many farmers and herders and the developing alfalfa industry, but will have grave consequences for the implementation of the state’s western development strategy in the southern mountainous areas of Ningxia – returning cropland to forest and grassland.
The project was implemented in two counties - Yanchi and Pengyang, while the other 6 counties and districts of Xiji, Haiyuan, Longde, Pengyang, Jingyuan, Tongxi and Yuanzhou were expected to indirectly benefit from the project.
Expected benefits of the project were:
The main objectives of the project were:
The project outputs were expected to be:
Originally planned for the period December 2006 to November 2008 the project was postponed because of severe drought in Ningxia Hui and was implemented in the period September 2007 to December 2009. First missions were fielded in September 2007 when the detailed workplan was prepared. The lead consultant undertook two further missions in October 2008 and October 2009 while four national consultants undertook a series of missions in the period September 2007 to October 2009. The final visits by consultants coincided with the Final Workshop at which the Alfalfa Management Guide for Ningxia and a Training Manual for Participatory Learning in Alfalfa Agronomy and IPM were presented and discussed and a document entitled Contributions Toward a Medium Term Plan to Sustain and Enhance Alfalfa Production in Ningxia was prepared and discussed.
Alfalfa situation in Ningxia
Training of researchers and technicians
Trainers and facilitators trained by the project should train their peers within their counties, as well as farmers who were unable to participate during 2008 and 2009. Ningxia bureaus should coordinate cross-county training and exchanges for the trainers educated by the project. Ningxia and the counties should cooperate to establish modern county-level training centres to train technicians and farmers in alfalfa production and other agricultural topics. Financial and credit training is needed for county staff to assist farmers.
Alfalfa Training Manuals
Both manuals will be available in English and Chinese. The project installed a server and website in the Ningxia Department of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry. All project publications and other relevant information will be posted on this new website for rapid dissemination and interaction with county offices.
Medium Term Plan
These recommended actions consist of nine items which can be initiated immediately, and 14 items that will require additional study, staff time, financial resources or other inputs.
The document “Contributions Toward a Medium Term
Plan to Sustain and Enhance Alfalfa Production in Ningxia” will require
broader review and discussion and should be distributed widely among the
appropriate Ningxia bureaus for wider discussion and input. The participatory
process utilized during the project should be used to revise and finalize
an official medium term plan which should then be rapidly implemented
due to the current situation of alfalfa in Ningxia – the need to replace
old alfalfa stands, high value of alfalfa and forages, and the increasing
demand by farmers for improved technology to produce alfalfa.