Although Tibet has made considerable strides in recent years to achieve a food grain surplus there is a deficit of livestock products i.e. meat and milk. Given that there is a lack of quality fodder and a limited area of arable land, ways have to be found of increasing fodder production without affecting the production of food grains. The new Tibet 5-Year Plan envisages that grain production should be increased to 900,000 tonnes and maintained at this level for food security. At the same time fodder production must be increased and cash crops introduced at the household level to increase incomes and improve livelihoods. Various Government agencies and projects in Tibet have been focusing on aspects related to grain, fodder and cash crop production. The FAO/Peoples Republic of China projects TCP/CPR/2907-3101 “Fodder Production and Double Cropping in Tibet” have for the last 3 years focused on double cropping systems, fodder crops, new cereal crop and fodder crop cultivar introduction and evaluation, and land management techniques including reduced tillage techniques, because of (i) the need to demonstrate the feasibility of double cropping, (ii) the need to reduce the time between first and second crops, (iii) the need to obtain a second (fodder) crop in the wet July-late September/early October period and (iv) because of the problems of declining productivity and soil fertility. Work by other projects and agencies is ongoing on intercropping, soil nutrient status, animal nutrition and farmer participatory methodologies.

This document was produced during the final workshop of projects TCP/CPR/2907-3101, attended by persons from a cross section of agencies and ministries including staff from county and township agricultural and animal husbandry bureaux plus village leaders, and after reporting on some of the findings and conclusions of projects TCP/CPR/2907-3101, and then listing some of the promising technologies, outlines some topics where focus is needed if TAR is to achieve the Goal of “Uplifting crop and livestock production from agricultural land” and reach the objectives of (i) Increased cereal grain yields so that more land can be allocated to cash and fodder crops, (ii) Rapid development of integrated crop and livestock systems – so that the cropping area can support livestock production and dairy production based on good quality fodder can be increased, (iii) Improved profitability of crop and livestock production, through re-adjustment of cropping structures to include cash crops such as vegetables and oilseeds, and fodder production with improved methods of conservation.

Some Findings and Conclusions from Projects TCP/CPR/2907-3101

The projects were implemented from 2004-2006 and some findings and conclusions were:

(i) As a result of the project there is increased awareness of the practice and potential of double cropping;

(ii) However, while it is clear that double cropping of cereals (especially winter barley) and fodder is feasible, the fodder crop needs to be planted by mid-July or earlier to ensure good yields. So the date of sowing of the fodder crop is critical; if there is a long delay after 1st July then yields are reduced, but if planting takes place by 20th July then good vetch yields can be obtained;

(iii) Although new varieties of winter barley were tested and while some yielded higher than existing material none matured as early as Dongqing No. 1 so that it will remain the standard where double cropping is considered with winter barley (most of those tested were 2-4 weeks later in maturity). The barley breeders need to look for varieties with the same or better early maturity and also higher yielding.

(iv) As all winter wheat varieties mature in late July or early August this is too late for double cropping and the only possibility is relay cropping (e.g. with vetch) or interplanting (e.g. with lucerne or vetch);

(v) Presently cereal yields are generally low in Tibet; if higher cereal yields could be obtained then this would release land for other crops such as fodder crops to be planted as the main crop in Spring or for double cropping. In order to increase yields there is need to look at soil fertility, weed control, input level, crop management etc.;

(vi) Fodder crops can be grown as sole crops or as dual purpose crops with both marketable and fodder components;

(vii) The project has introduced a number of new fodder crops and their screening and evaluation needs taking further, especially with the change in Government policy (previously fodder growing was for the poorer land, now cash crops and fodder can be considered as main crops and grown on good land) which it is understood should allow the growing of pure fodder or fodder and cash crops to increase income at the household level. A number of promising fodder crops (both sole [especially vetch, lucerne and melilotus] and dual [radish, bean, turnip and maize]) have been identified;

(viii) More emphasis is needed on fodder crops and efforts must be increased to obtain seed of varieties recommended by consultants as the lack of seed and the difficulties with the present import permit system have meant no fodder seed importation to date on the project from sources identified in Europe and New Zealand; however, all appropriate quarantine procedures must be observed;

(ix) The project has demonstrated many aspects of better land management, zero-tillage and weed control and fodder crop production and processing even if some of the data collected and the quantitative results have been mixed due to problems in trial management;

(x) There is a need to promote zero-tillage because it can maintain or increase yields but also reduces costs considerably; however, particular attention is needed on good weed control otherwise the benefits may not accrue, particularly in the initial years; the project introduced new weed control equipment and herbicides, but perhaps future emphasis should be on integrated weed control;

(xi) There is need to focus on cropping systems and crop rotations to ensure long term sustainability and yield maintenance;

(xii) There is a need for greater focus on declining soil fertility, very low K and Mo levels and for greater residue return to soils; also given the high Ca and high soil pH (8.9 in a TARI sample) there may be need to consider banding fertilizer;

(xiii) 2 and 4-wheel tractors were purchased and demonstrated to TARI staff who were trained in their use, so there is now some experience in how the zero-tillage technology works but there is need to involve farmers in a participatory way;

(xiv) The lack of availability of spare parts for machinery and the need for inputs such as fertilizers and herbicides for weed control to be available are problems that need to be addressed by Government;

(xv) Making silage in small plastic barrels is a good option for feed conservation for the small farmer with a few improved cattle. Fodder or maize (at milk stage) or wheat or barley at the same stage can be used;

(xvi) Consultants fielded by the project have produced and left behind an excellent body of material in the form of consultants reports, the training manual and the medium term plan derived from the final workshop;

(xvii) It needs to be appreciated that for the farmer moving from a single crop to a double cropping system this represents a total change of farmer traditional practices, involves additional inputs and also involves risks. Therefore it is important that in future farmers are fully involved in ongoing technical trials and demonstrations (rather than a top down approach) so that they feel ownership and buy in to the new technologies and systems being proposed. So any future work should include more emphasis on farmer participation from the start and a general rule should be that a farmer participatory approach is needed for extension to promote the technology to farmers;

(xviii) If technologies are to be adopted by farmers there is need for a participatory approach and the inputs such as machines, spare parts, barrels, plastic, seeds etc need to be available as well as markets for the produce.

3. Promising Technologies

These are listed with an indication of which:

(i) Are ready for extension by agricultural bureaux staff to farmers through participatory approaches; demonstrations, farmer experiments and training;

(ii) Requires further participatory on-farm research by staff of TAAAS and agricultural bureaux;

(iii) Requires further research on-station, with the assistance of farmers for evaluation.

Key new technologies include (with an indication if category (i), (ii) or (iii) applies):

  1. New varieties of cereals (iii)
    1. Short duration Winter barley and wheat varieties with high yields, good quality and disease resistance
  2. Zero-till planting of cereal and fodder crops (i)
    1. Winter barley – vetch
    2. Winter barley - turnips
  3. Relay planting of fodder crops into cereals (ii)
    1. Winter wheat/barley – vetch
  4.  Potassium and other major element deficiency problems (ii)
  5. Weed control with herbicides (ii)
    1. Use of Glyphosate as a non-specific herbicide
    2. Specific herbicides for specific crops eg. 2,4D in cereals
  6. New fodder crops (ii) (iii)
  7. Conservation of fodder crops through improved drying and haymaking methods (i)
  8. Conservation of green fodder as silage in plastic barrels for small scale milk producers (i)
    1. Single full-season fodder crop – Spring maize, barley
    2. Second fodder crop after cereal harvest
    3. i. Sole legumes – vetch (with partial drying)
      ii. Mixed cereal/legume mixture
  1. Straw treatment (using urea or ammonium carbonate) (i) 

4. Some Elements to be Considered in the Next 5 Year Plan

Strategies and Options

The main strategy should be to improve the productivity of the irrigated lands of Tibet through more sustainable and profitable cropping systems that also use natural resources more efficiently and do minimal harm to the environment. The practice of continual cereal production on the same land may not be a good option for several reasons. First, there is a need to introduce rotations that will result is less disease, insect and weed pressures; continuous cereal production can lead to a build up of these biotic stresses. Second, continuous cereal production will lead to nutrient mining and loss of soil health. Third, unless the Government subsidizes the cereal crop by ensuring prices for the product at harvest, cereals are not as remunerative as other possible higher value crops that could be introduced into the rotation. At present, the Government policy says that the best, irrigated lands should be devoted to cereals, and that fodders should be grown on less productive land. However, using fodders as a rotational crop with cereals is a common practice and principle of sound farming in many parts of the World; fodder crops can help with nitrogen fixation through rhizobial synergies, can be a key component in integrated weed control and help break certain disease and insect cycles and help improve organic matter levels in the soil. Probably the best strategy would be to increase the yield per unit area of the cereals through improved agronomy to meet cereal production goals and allow the land saved to be used to grow fodder and high value crops, also with good agronomy practices.

Cereal Breeding

A breeding programme for short duration high yielding naked winter barley to combine the earliness of Dongqing #1 with the yield of other varieties was established in 2003 and needs to be continued. Since DQ#1 is a facultative winter variety, the possibility of compressing the breeding programme by cooperation with an institute in the southern hemisphere needs serious consideration so as to halve the breeding time from 12 to 6 years. The collection of wheat varieties introduced by the project contained a number of early maturing (July 15) high yielding varieties which could accommodate double cropping. However straw was very short, and quality for traditional human foods in Tibet may be poor. Farmers do not in general adopt short strawed varieties since their interest is in straw as a fodder. However, if grown in a double cropping system with a fodder crop, total yield of digestible nutrients can be the same, the yield of protein can be higher through the use of legumes. Such materials can be used by cereal breeders in a new programme to develop acceptable short duration winter wheat varieties with high grain yields and quality, and introduced to farmers through participatory evaluation programmes. In addition new breeding programmes are required to introduce wheat and barley varieties with potential uses in industry, such as malting barley. Such crops, once processed, can yield high value by-products for livestock feeding.

Main Crops

Obviously barley and wheat must continue to be the major crops grown on irrigated land. However, there is a definite yield gap between present farmer yields and potential under farmer conditions. If this yield gap can be bridged land can be available for a number of other crops that include the following although there are surely others that need to be considered as suitable markets are found:

  1. Various single use fodder crops that include:
    1. Vetch (Vicia sativa) (Vicia villosa; V. villosa var. dasycarpa)
    2. Lucerne (Medicago sativa)
  2. Various dual purpose fodder crops including:
    1. Maize (Zea mays)
    2. Peas (Pisum sativum) and Broad bean (Vicia faba)
    3. Turnip and radish (Brassica rapa var. rapa)
  3. Various Brassica seed crops that can provide valuable oil that can be processed through an oil vegetable factory in the Lhasa valley
  4. Cash crops – garlic, melons, vegetables

Land Preparation, Nutrient and Weed Control Issues

The traditional system for growing cereal crops in the irrigated areas of Tibet starts with mouldboard ploughing, broadcasting of seed and fertilizer (usually just N and maybe P if available), and finally some levelling or planking (mostly manual) to bury the seed and fertilizer. Weed control would be done manually, if at all. After the crop is harvested, many farmers graze the cereal land with their animals leaving no residues in the field. The result is land that is not level, low in organic matter, and cloddy. Plant stands are often poor despite very high seed rates; water productivity, fertilizer efficiency and yields are low. Land levelling would help with water productivity. Once levelled it makes sense to utilize zero-till and strip-till establishment systems since they don’t upset the field level. Some residues from the past crop should be left in the field and when combined with zero-till has been shown to be a good way to improve soil organic matter.

Data from a few soil samples taken from the TARI station and farmer fields show a very high pH and calcium level and low potassium in some cases magnesium and some micro-nutrients. More soil sampling needs to be done and the soils analyzed at TAAAS with the results made available as soon as possible. On-farm testing of various nutrient (fertilizer) elements and methods of application (banding and spraying) would ensure nutrients were not limiting. On-farm trials to look at ways to lower pH would also be useful using products such as ammonium sulphate or just elemental sulphur. Lowering of pH should result in more availability of nutrients to plants.

Farmers have also voiced concern about some new invasive weeds that they are finding difficult to control with hand weeding or grazing. Integrated weed control methods that use rotations, mulching, clean seed, herbicides and other techniques are needed to resolve this problem that can result in lowering yields.

Fodder Crop Options

Fodder crops can be grown as second crops in cereal rotations, as main spring crops on second class crop land, and in specialised fodder systems such as winter rye for spring green fodder followed by maize for silage. Following possible land restructuring it will be beneficial to grow fodder crops as break crops on first class land. Only commercial livestock keepers for milk or meat will find it economic to grow crops solely for fodder. Farmers in general will only grow fodder crops if they provide benefits in addition to food for animals. The best example is turnips which are grown as a second crop and can be consumed by the family, exchanged for other animal feeds or grain, or fed whole to livestock.  In developing fodder crops it is therefore essential to work with farmers to select crops and varieties that can provide immediate social and/or economic gain, good quality fodder at a time it is needed, and preferably that act as break crops within cereal based rotations. For example in selecting varieties of maize to harvest for silage at the soft dough stage, varieties that produce good cobs that can be sold as corn-on-the-cob can be sown rather than special silage varieties that may have lower commercial value. In this way the farmer can cover the cost of growing the crop from sale of cobs, and produce high yields of good quality fodder for conservation. Similarly, although vetch/oat mixtures may lead to higher milk production when fed green to cows, pea/oat mixtures grown as main crops can also provide green pods to market. Legume fodder crops fix N in the soil, provide a break in the rotation, and lead to improved yields of following cereal crops. Establishment of biennial and perennial legumes as second crops during the summer rains can provide green fodder late in the first year, and full production in the second year. Even wheat (awnless varieties) can be conserved as silage at the milky to soft dough stage, at a time when yield of the crop for grain can be well estimated - only the surplus area of crop can be ensiled, and the land cultivated to second crops of fodder. Other crops that provide fodder and/or marketable components as well as break crop potential include broad beans (fixes N), various leafy and root brassicas, buckwheat, and sunflowers. Many of these crops can be recommended to farmers immediately, while other will require further evaluation with farmers. Ongoing programmes of plant introduction and evaluation for fodder crops as second crops should be continued, and extended to multiple sites and alternate systems of fodder production. Management and agronomy of selected fodder crops need to be understood through participatory trials.

Fodder Crop Utilisation and Conservation

Fodder from cultivated fodder crops can be fed green, and many farmers already cut small areas of green fodder from cereal crops when other fodders are not available. This is the cheapest form of utilisation, and should be encouraged in spring and early summer when alternate sources of fodder are scarce. It also reduces grazing pressure on hill pastures adjacent to villages that are susceptible to overgrazing , degradation and soil erosion.

Large quantities of green fodder of high feeding value accumulate in summer from fodders grown as main crops, and in autumn from double cropped fodders and second cut main crops. Before the rains come at the end of June conditions are good for making hay, or otherwise drying fodder crops. Heavy crops of fodders with high moisture contents are difficult to dry, especially after the rainy season has started. In order to conserve fodder crops efficiently either artificial methods to assist drying are needed, or the crop should be conserved in the green state as silage.  Hay fences, A-frames and tripods are used to enhance drying of fodder in forest areas where wood is plentiful, and the use of similar structures made out of locally available materials needs to be developed with farmers elsewhere.

With silage making the scale of operation depends on how much silage will be fed out each day during winter. Farmers with local cows, and farmers with just one crossbred cow, need to feed small quantities to provide the green feed supplement which improves digestion of straw based diets. Silage made in plastic barrels has been developed and needs extension for these farmers. Where larger quantities are fed to several cows each day, small to medium sized narrow pits are appropriate - either on an individual household basis, or on a group basis. Such technology needs to be developed with farmers as they start to grow fodder crops, and correct procedures followed to conserve good quality fodders as good quality silage

Large quantities of wheat straw are collected by every farmer, and are available to be treated over the warm summer months. Urea/ammonia treatment has been widely adopted in the rest of China, and this technology is ready to be introduced to farmers in Tibet now.

Farmers new to cultivating fodder crops will not know how to use them.  Rations for winter and summer for milk and meat production from local, crossbred and improved cattle need to be worked out with farmers, to include their traditional feed ingredients and the particular fodders that they have cultivated and conserved. This needs to be supported by fodder and feed analysis, and evaluated by recording the production of cows kept by the farmers.

Seed Production

Seed multiplication schemes need to be in place for the wheat and barley varieties coming from cereal breeding programmes, to include seed certification to international standards. This needs to be extended to major fodder crops grown by farmers, such as vetch and turnips, since already demand is exceeding both local supplies and that from neighbouring Gansu province. Where possible breeder's seed should be used to commence the seed multiplication chain, and top class farmers selected and registered to produce seeds for the general market under official inspection.


One way for farmers to improve their incomes is to grow alternative fodder and high value crops instead of cereals or utilize better fodders in animal husbandry activities. However, without suitable markets for these outputs the farmers risk losing money invested in these new technologies. It would be useful for a market database to be developed at the commodity level that could be accessed readily by farmers either through mobile phones or through offices at the village or county level. Farmers should also be encouraged to form groups for better marketing ability.

Methodologies and Concepts – Extension, Participatory Approaches, Training

Extending technologies developed by researchers and accelerating their adoption by farmers is essential if they are to provide any benefit to the community. The present extension system in Tibet is very top-down and linear and not very efficient in extending more complex technologies. Introduction of suitable participatory approaches that involve various stakeholders, especially farmers would go a long way to improve this situation.

Training of extension agents but also scientists as good facilitators for participatory technology development and evaluation is essential. The first step would be for someone knowledgeable in participatory approaches to train the trainers.

Training is also needed in sound scientific technique at the station and on-farm level to improve the accuracy and reliability of experiments.