Posted July 1996
Soil fertility problems are being addressed by several single and combined technologies: rotation and intercropping of non-legume and legume crops, planting of green manure crops, the use of organic manure, the combination of long- and short-release fertilizers, proper amounts of chemical fertilizers, and the integration of crop and livestock production. In the large areas of sandy arid and semi-arid lands, agro-forestry measures (grass and tree planting) are used to fix sand and create windbreaks.
Adapted crop varieties are being developed to suit different environmental conditions. The utilization of water resources received special attention, given that 47 percent of China's total arable land is irrigated. Technologies include the use of rainfall and underground water and the deployment of sprinkling irrigation and tube irrigation.
Agro-ecological zoning in China is based rather on political and administrative boundaries than on climatic and topographic criteria. There exist, though, distinctive features of agricultural production in each of the ten main agro-ecological regions. It is important to note, however, that each region is made up of varying agro-ecological environments. There is a large difference between the eastern and western agricultural regions of China. In the east, the climatic conditions are more favourable, with long history of agricultural development and a dense population. Most of China's arable land and forestry and fishery resources are in the eastern part of the country. In the west, with unfavourable climatic conditions, a sparse population, shortage of labour and small and scattered farming regions, pastoral production systems dominate. Agro-ecological conditions in the east range from dryland farming in the northeast to the subtropical and tropical zones of the southeast, with paddy rice and cash crops. In the northwest, farming depends totally on irrigation and in the high and cool areas of the west, agricultural production relies mainly on livestock grazing.
China's most important production systems are based on grains, including (in order of cropping area) rice, wheat, corn, soybean, sorghum, millet and also other crops such as cotton, rape seed, peanut, fibres, sugarcane, sugarbeet, tobacco and fruits.
In the vast areas of arable land in the northeast, cereal production relies on the system of one single crop per year. Natural hazards in this area include droughts and floods as well as low temperatures. Int eh southern tropical and sub-tropical areas, two to three crops per year are possible. Here, rice dominates agricultural production, besides oil and cash crops.
Animal production can be found in several areas (Mongolia, central provinces, western area, etc.) with varying degrees of integration with crop production and the predominance of grazing systems in mountainous areas. Problems include adjusted stocking rates and herd composition and better integration with existing land use systems.
The total land area of China is 9.6 million km2, with 0.993 million km2 of arable land, 33,000 km2 of gardens, 3.6 millions km2 of grass land, 1.2 million km2 of forests, 267,000 km2 of inland water area and 200,000 km2 of coastal beach and shoal.
Plant cover and soil formation in China follow distinctive latitudes and belt. South of the Tropic of Cancer, equalling the southern subtropical and tropical belts, tropical monsoon forest with laterite and red loam dominates. In the northern and central subtropical area, north of the Tropic, evergreen broadleaf forests grow and red-yellow soil is formed. Further north, in the Huang-Hai plain and Shandong Peninsula of warm temperate climate, deciduous broadleaf forests and brown soil can be found. In the northeastern cold temperate zone, extensive growth of mixed coniferous and broadleaf trees and dark brown and black soils prevail.
China is rich in biological resources. The glaciation in the Quaternary Period was far less strong as that in the same latitude in Europe and rich resources of animals and plants evolved in China. For example, Chinese pteridophytes include 52 families and gymnosperms 10 families, and angiosperms 291 families, accounting for 80 percent, 90 percent and 53 percent of the world's resources, respectively. Animal resources in China are also very rich. Amphibians comprise 196 species (7 percent of world total), reptiles 315 species (5 percent of world total), birds 1,166 species (13.5 percent of world total), and domestic animals (9.7 percent of world total). Total animal species in China (2,091) account for 10 percent of the world's total.
The main objective of farm household include the provision of food and clothing, improved environment and enriched cultural life. Net incomes per farmer increasing by 58.5 percent between 1985 and 1990.
However, the poverty problem in some areas of the country has not been solved yet. Constraints to farmers' improved livelihood are manifold. Although the introduction of the production responsibility system created incentives for farmers, total incomes are small because of the small scale of the enterprise. In the rural areas, much surplus labour force are idle. However, during recent years the development of enterprises in towns and villages has made use of more than 90 million people and resulted in a considerable increase of income for farmers.
Indicators of unsustainability include water loss, soil erosion, floods, saline and alkaline soils, and weed and pest damage. Each year various kinds of natural disasters account for about 10 million tons of yield loss. The incidence of water loss and soil erosion has been decreased through grass planting and afforestation. At present, projects and biological measurers are taken to reduce the losses due to natural disasters. Floods occur in the bis rivers' regions, droughts in western China, water loss and soil erosion near the Yellow River, and pest damages in all agricultural regions.
Population pressure is an important factor for agricultural sustainability in China, through large variations occurring the different Provinces (1.8 persons per square kilometre in Tibet, 2,118 in Shanghai, nation-wide average 118).
Supply and judicious use of production factors (e.g., water) as well as labour availability will play a decisive role in the sustainable growth of agricultural production. The combination of organic manure and chemical fertilizers, the balanced use of NPK and the effects of micro-elements have to receive attention. To reduce environmental pollution through the use of chemical pesticides, biological control measures and microbiological pesticides are being advocated. Stable and high yields in lowlands require that proper attention be paid to drainage aspects.
The objectives of sustainable agriculture in China are to continuously supply the population with agricultural products of good quality while maintaining soil fertility with economically feasible means. Concrete measures should be in line with local conditions to improve both production and quality at low costs, achieving economical efficiency and causing no harm to the environment, using technology that preserves water and soil resources. To this end, biological control in plant protection and organic and green manure in crop production have to receive more attention.
Soil, climatic and other ecological conditions largely determine the range of technologies to be selected from. Economic feasibility and efficiency along with easy popularization are major factors for the choice of technological options. Examples include irrigation techniques that do not cause soil salinization such as drop irrigation for fruit trees and sprinkler irrigation for wheat and cotton, and a technology package combining plastic ground cover, quality seeds and fertilizers particularly in remote and mountainous areas.
Recommended technologies need to be assessed as to their location-specific applicability and adaptability. To minimize the risk of adoption, selection of technologies is based on technology testing to assess the performance within local conditions. In this respect, further strengthening of the extension service and the capacities for technology adaptation and economic assessment require more attention.
Some examples of technologies that have been successfully transferred to farmers' fields are given below. Plastic ground cover for corn. Swift adoption of this technology with significant effects on yields occurred by poor areas after frontline demonstrations. Farmers were quickly convinced of its advantages which led to its successful extension.
Poultry raising. Traditional poultry raising of a few animals per household was replaced by large-scale production after the introduction of superior breeds and advanced feeding techniques.
Improved horticultural practices. The introduction of a foreign apple variety (Red Fiji) has replaced the traditional variety and led to higher profits. Superior properties of the new variety (good storage quality, big size, proper acidity) led to its broad adaption. Planting of the new variety is combined with the traditional technique of planting green manure, a key factor in maintaining soil fertility.
Gaps between experimental plots and farmers' fields are mainly due to failures in the timely delivery of inputs and the reduced applicability of whole technology packages. Furthermore, technological guidelines for local conditions frequently tend to be incomplete and management capacities lag behind actual requirements. This situation is similar in crop and livestock production as well as forestry.
The shortage of trained manpower for extension is at the root of the problem, besides sufficient availability of inputs and funds for large-scale extension. Technical training of farmers has to receive highest priority, as it often suffers from lack of timely technological guidance.
Since the introduction of the production responsibility system in 1979/80, agricultural output has been continuously increased. Furthermore, the Agricultural Bank of China has increased the credit supply to farmers which contributed significantly to this achievement. Further measures include large-scale soil amelioration, e.g. for sandy soils, lowlands and alkaline/saline soils. Equally important is the enlargement of the irrigated area, accounting for more than 40 million ha or 45 percent of the total cultivated land, and requiring the construction of water conservation and conveyance systems.
Extension of technology in China involves various governmental departments, the agricultural bank, commercial organizations, research and extension departments, and farmers' associations (presently more than 120,000).
Farmers' organizations should play a prominent role in the process of technology transfer, supported by scientific and technical personnel. Contract research could be beneficial in this respect. To improve the applicability of recommended technology, all aspects of agricultural production should be considered. Due respect should be paid to the important role of services, e.g., input supply and marketing aspects.
Universities and colleges should be called upon for technological advancement and popularization. Scientific and technical personnel have to be mobilized to actively contribute to increased agricultural production and the improvement of living conditions in rural areas. This includes better servicing of farmers with a view to enhanced management capacities.
Considerable funds are needed for technological progress and can be drawn directly from the various links in the production chain, linking contributions to incomes. Furthermore, the various organization and institutions concerned with technology development and transfer have to strengthen as regards their capacities for fund raising. At the national level, key projects should be identified within a comprehensive research plan and receive funding accordingly. Long-term development objectives call for increased overall funding of agricultural research and concerned departments have to be coordinated in a comprehensive way.
Research-extension linkages. Joint efforts of various levels of research and extension department have led to the successful transfer of numerous research achievements to farmers' fields. Newly developed varieties are currently being planted on 42 million ha.
On-farm testing. Before the extension of a technology, on-farm testing is carried out to assess its applicability under location-specific conditions. Due to the climatic variation between subsequent years, this kind of evaluation requires usually 2-3 years. Programmes for location-specific technology testing exist in all Provinces and Prefectures.