China started small for huge farm yields
© Fei Yang/Moment Open/Getty
China has involved more than twenty million smallholder farmers in a ten-year effort to introduce new agricultural management practices, which has achieved major increases in average yields and decreased use of nitrogen fertilizers.
A research team, including scientists from the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, first conducted small-scale trials across China’s major agricultural regions to develop programmes for improving farming practices tailored to local climate, soil nutrients and water availability.
A network of 1,152 researchers, with assistance from around 200,000 other personnel, helped 20.9 million farmers managing a total of 37.7 million hectares across 452 counties — ranging from arid deserts to humid subtropical environments — to adopt the new practices. The result was a 10.8-11.5 per cent increase in average yields for maize, rice and wheat; a 14.7-18.1 per cent reduction in nitrogen fertilizer use; and significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions per tonne of grain. Overall, the improvements in grain harvests and reductions in fertilizer use were worth US$12.2 billion.
- Nature 555, 363–366 (2018). doi: 10.1038/nature25785