Continued increase in population and escalating environmental degradation have changed the priorities of agricultural development projects in developing and emerging countries towards both increasing production or productivity and improving sustainability. The long-term success of these development projects, especially in terms of improving sustainability, depends on how widely those improved practices which are shown to be effective in achieving the technical objectives, are adopted/adapted by farmers in the targeted region. In these terms, many projects in recent years may be considered to be relatively unsuccessful. This study aimed to investigate the factors contributing to the effectiveness of agricultural technology research and development projects in improving the sustainability of cropping systems in upland areas of China, together with the factors that might limit their effectiveness. This has involved both a review of recent projects carried out in the region and detailed monitoring and evaluation of one such project carried out in South West China – the SHASEA project. The SHASEA Project was implemented in Wang Jia catchment in Yunnan Province using holistic and multi-disciplinary approaches to address the twin objectives of increasing productivity of maize, wheat and soybean in a more sustainable and environmentally-friendly way. It introduced into the catchment a range of novel or modified cropping practices, which had been evaluated in plot studies over the preceding six years, together with biological and engineering measures designed to stabilise large scale soil movements in lateral gullies and the main stream. The SHASEA Project was successful in achieving its short-term scientific and technical objectives, but was too short to determine the level of adoption by farmers in the locality. The present study has used a range of approaches to evaluate the effectiveness of this Project, to monitor the biological, environmental and socio-economic impacts and investigate the perceptions of the farmers about the Project and the likelihood of their adoption of the recommended practices. Participatory approaches were used wherever possible, including detailed household surveys, PRA workshops and discussions with Key Informants. Field surveys and direct observations were also made, together with a limited economic analysis of the modified cropping practices introduced into the catchment. It was found that the farmers had different perceptions about the range of practices introduced into the catchment. Some were clearly preferred, such as contour cultivation and were likely to be adopted, while others were seen as inappropriate, such as straw mulching and intercropping, and were unlikely to be adopted. The benefits of an innovative, integrated cropping system, INCOPLAST, were not fully appreciated by the farmers. Other practices would only be adopted if the financial returns were favourable, such as the use of polythene mulch. Longer-term measures, such as tree planting schemes, were regarded favourably, but adoption would still depend on economic returns and related issues such as land security. An irrigation scheme was suggested by the farmers, but after installation it was not used extensively for the staple crops in the catchment. It was found that farmers planned to use the irrigation for higher value crops such as tobacco, after the end of the Project. It has been concluded that, despite the technical and scientific success of the Project, long-term adoption of many of the practices introduced into the catchment will be low, unless considerable incentives are used or much more effective dissemination techniques employed. It is considered that the outcomes would have improved considerably if participatory approaches had been used from the outset, to engage farmers more fully with the project, to ensure that the practices introduced were as appropriate as possible, to achieve greater ownership of the objectives and outcomes, leading to higher adoption rates. More emphasis should have been given to the dissemination of the outcomes at farmer level outside the catchment of study and there should have been more involvement with the regional policy makers and extension officials throughout the programme. Longer-term improvements in sustainability at the catchment level have not yet been demonstrated. These outcomes are discussed within the context of other agricultural projects carried out in South East Asia and other developing regions. Based on the outcomes and conclusions from this study, a series of recommendations are made which are presented as good practices for future agricultural development projects in South East Asia.
Sustainable agriculture in China is highly threatened by rapid urbanization, land degradation and high population pressure. Yunnan Province, south-west China, is 94% mountainous and lacks flat land. Food shortages and inappropriate cultivation have led to intensive cultivation of steep, marginal and fragile land and have increased soil erosion. To curb this situation and assist with poverty alleviation, it is crucial to develop more productive and sustainable cropping systems. An experiment was conducted on sloping areas from 1999 to 2001 in Wang Jia Catchment, Yunnan Province. The project aim was to evaluate the effects of five selected cultivation practices on maize productivity and soil properties. The treatments were: (1) downslope cultivation without mulch, (2) contour cultivation without mulch, (3) contour cultivation with polythene mulch, (4) contour cultivation with polythene and wheat straw mulch (Integrated Contour with Plastic and Straw Mulch Treatment, INCOPLAST) and (5) contour cultivation with polythene mulch and intercropping, wide and narrow row spacing, with soybean in wide row spacing. Crop growth parameters and soil physical properties were measured throughout the cropping seasons. Considering three years data, contour cultivation with polythene mulch generally increased soil temperature by a mean of 1-2°C. The polythene retained considerably more soil moisture during dry weather. However, during wet weather, polythene prevented rainfall directly falling on the soil, which led to less soil moisture content. The soil temperature and moisture regimes under polythene mulch made plants grow faster and canopies develop well, leading to higher final yields. The benefit of polythene was 33-54% more yield than downslope cultivation without mulch treatment, over three seasons. Contour cultivation plus polythene and straw mulch retained significantly higher soil moisture levels. The yield of this treatment in 1999 was ranked second, but in 2000 it had the highest yield and in 2001 it was also more effective than contour cultivation with polythene mulch treatment. Contour cultivation with polythene mulch and intercropping improved maize yield. The soybean harvest also contributed to net income, the crop had a similar function to straw mulch and increased N availability. Contour cultivation increased yields over the range 7.2-11.2% over three seasons compared with downslope cultivation, equivalent to ~500-1000 kg per hectare more grain produced. There were few clear trends in soil properties over the 1999-2001 period. However, N concentrations increased in the contour cultivation with polythene mulch and intercropping treatment. Both contour cultivation with polythene and straw mulch and contour cultivation with polythene mulch and intercropping gave apparent increases in total K, probably resulting from both decayed straw and decomposed soybean leaves. In terms of simple cost-benefit evaluation, downslope cultivation had the lowest input and output, while contour cultivation had a similar input, but a higher output. Contour cultivation with polythene had the highest net return. Contour cultivation with polythene and straw had a high output but did not give a higher net return than contour cultivation with polythene. Contour cultivation with polythene mulch and intercropping generally had the highest input and output and could give a higher net return than contour cultivation with polythene when the soybean harvest was successful, but over three years this treatment had the greatest risk from crop failure. It is recommended that replacing downslope cultivation with contour cultivation can increase crop yields and this simple action could contribute to the development of more sustainable cropping systems in Yunnan. Polythene mulch achieved higher maize yields but its environmental impact requires further study. It is considered that contour cultivation with polythene and straw mulch or soybean intercropping could contribute towards more productive and sustainable cropping systems where soil conservation is high priority. The technique could assist with long-term soil, water and nutrient conservation and improved crop productivity.
This study develops a basis for a land information system for the 40 ha subtropical highland catchment of Wang Jia, Yunnan Province, China. Information, including meteorology, geology, geomorphology, biology, pedology and crop productivity, was integrated using a geomorphopedological approach and expressed as maps using GIS. The developed protocol is proposed as a generic system, applicable to agricultural land evaluation in subtropical highland catchments. The results demonstrate that Wang Jia Catchment is relatively representative of the region, in terms of geomorphological features and land cover. Catchment soils, developed from residual, colluvial and alluvial materials of sandstone, shale and dolomite on different landscapes, were still young and strongly influenced by their geological parent material. Soils were normally slightly acidic to neutral. Soil fertility varied from poor to very fertile. Maize yield was significantly correlated with soil pH, total N, available N, P and K and thus the Soil Fertility Index. In 2002, maize yield was significantly correlated with manure and urea applications. There was considerable potential to increase maize yield with modified and innovative cropping practices in the catchment. Adopted primarily as a soil conservation practice, contour cultivation did not increase maize yield compared to downslope cultivation. Polythene mulch tended to increase maize yield in most years. These results largely accord with the results from controlled research plots in the same catchment. Analysis of intra-plot variations showed that soil samples from planting pits had higher total soil organic matter, total N, available N, available P and available K than inter-row samples, but with higher standard deviations. Most soil fertility parameters for inter-row samples were more similar to traditional random composite samples. These results suggest if composite samples were taken only from inter-rows, the results would have been similar, but the risk of sampling error would have been reduced. The land information system established in this study is suitable for designing, evaluating and monitoring sustainable agricultural practices central to soil conservation and crop yield improvement and thus contributing to decision-making for sustainable agricultural land management in this region.
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