of China Australia Food Security Cooperation Initiative (CAFSCI)

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Intensifying production of grain and fodder in Central Tibet farming systems

Overview of Project

This project sought to optimise the use of resources in cropping for the production of both food-grain crops and fodder crops in central Tibet by carefully matching crop types to the agro-climatic environment.

Agriculture in the central area of Tibet Autonomous Region takes place mainly on the floors and lower slopes of river valleys. Soils are fertile and average rainfall, mostly falling between July and October, sufficient to support cropping. Barley, wheat, rapeseed, faba bean, maize, vegetables, potato and fodder crops are all grown. The high altitude of the cropping zone means growing periods are characterised by high sunshine intensity and large divergence between day and night temperatures. These characteristics require specific management practices for cropping.

Current levels of grain production are close to achieving self-sufficiency but need further improvement, as importing of grain to so remote a region is costly. This shortfall also has implications for livestock production, another very important component of agriculture in Tibet Autonomous Region. Animal rearing provides opportunities for additional cash incomes, but dependence on grassland grazing as the main form of fattening hampers growth rates in comparison to feeding with fodder crops. This poor nutrition remains an impediment to increased growth and limits possible cash returns. Intensifying overall cropping in both grain and fodder production will result in improvements through the whole system - bringing cereal self-sufficiency closer and improving animal growth to boost incomes.

Key Outcomes of Project

The project was successful in obtaining information on the natural resource base and current systems for crop and fodder production in Tibet, and in compiling this into a comprehensive review. The researchers concluded that the valleys of central Tibet are highly suitable for the production of high-yielding grain crops, but that the current cropping systems leave significant plant growth resources unutilised. This review now provides a foundation for further agricultural research and development work both locally at Tibet Agricultural Research Institute (TARI) and with international collaborators.

Secondly, two different options were explored to boost fodder production in Tibet without unacceptable impacts on grain production - these were the broadcast-sowing of vetch (Vicia sativa) seed into maturing stands of winter wheat, and the inter-row sowing of vetch and lucerne (Medicago sativa) into widely sown crops of winter wheat and barley. The broadcast sowing of vetch allowed the production of around 3 tonnes per hectare of vetch in average rainfall years, with minimal impact on grain yield. The inter-row sowing of vetch allowed similar levels of vetch production, but led to grain yield reductions of 16-37%, while inter-row sown crops of lucerne led to grain yield reductions of at least 70-80%. As such, the broadcasting of vetch into maturing winter cereal crops appeared the best intercropping method.

Sole crops of vetch and lucerne produced dry matter yields of 8 and 14 tonnes per hectare, respectively. Over the course of the project zero-till equipment was brought into Tibet for the first time, and preliminary experiments suggest that double crops of vetch, sown using zero-till seeders in the Lhasa district, may also be a viable strategy for fodder production on many farms - yielding, for little extra work, around 5 tonnes per hectare of vetch hay.

At the conclusion of the project in 2007 the project team was able to recommend a number of best-bet strategies for producing fodder in three different agro-climatic areas within Tibet’s central cropping zone, and these methods are now ready for testing on farms.

Finally, excellent progress was made throughout the project in the area of capacity building, leading to the establishment at TARI of a strong research facility with the capacity to conduct agronomic research to drive agricultural development in Tibet well into the future.

Project Dates

01 Jan 2004 - 31 Dec 2007


Tibet Agricultural Research Institute - China
University of Adelaide - Australia


Professor David Coventry



08 8303 7954

Launch Website