Agricultural innovation in the mountains: a new direction

Mountain Futures’ ‘muga’ silk (far left), woven by local artisans. Photo: World Agroforestry/William Julian


The Mountain Futures Innovation Platform in Yunnan, China is a new way to better understand upland landscapes for sustainable development.


The Mountain Futures Innovation Platform was inaugurated on 11 January 2019 by World Agroforestry and the Kunming Institute of Botany of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Honghe County, Yunnan, China.

The Platform represents a novel approach to improving food security, sustaining livelihoods, and supporting cultural and biological diversity in the Asian Uplands. It will provide farmers with international agroforestry expertise, local and national government support, and access to larger markets through partnerships with a variety of private-sector organizations.

‘In launching this Platform, we are moving one step closer to revitalizing the resources of our mountains and bringing prosperity to our people,’ said Wenhong Xu, secretary general of the Honghe County Committee of Political and Legislative Affairs.


Wenhong Xu, secretary general of the Honghe County Committee of Political and Legislative Affairs, delivering the opening address at the inauguration. Photo: World Agroforestry/William Julian


The inauguration also included two other linked organizations, Mountain Futures Science and Technology Limited, and the Mountain Futures Farmers’ Co-op. These organizations will work together to give farmers the tools necessary to meet the growing demand for organic and fair-trade goods and introducing them to well-established value chains and markets.

Mountain Futures impacts are intended to go even further than just the supply chain. Crop varieties produced in Honghe are the result of extensive land surveys and laboratory research, with teams of experts consulted on each crop grown by the Mountain Futures Farmers’ Co-op. According to Jianchu Xu, regional coordinator of World Agroforestry’s East and Central Asia program and founder of the Mountain Futures Initiative, it is precisely in its unique collaborations that Mountain Futures has the most potential for wide-ranging change to both farming practices and local livelihoods.


Local and national officials join Xu (centre right) to inaugurate the Mountain Futures Innovation Platform, Science and Technology Limited and Farmers’ Co-op organizations. Photo: World Agroforestry/William Julian


‘We seek to build up these industries according to the unique ecological circumstances within mountain landscapes,’ said Xu. ‘And then link them with larger markets that farmers wouldn’t otherwise be able to access. By pairing our researchers with farmers, we are able to entice private-sector investment and boost incomes. This multi-faceted engagement is exactly what we hope to introduce to other mountainous regions around the world.’

Several of the Mountain Futures products: dried beef, certified organic red rice, and a local variety of chili pepper. Photo: World Agroforestry/William Julian

The Platform has already begun producing seven products, each of which has been developed through the technical expertise of scientists from World Agroforestry and the Kunming Institute of Botany: finger limes (Citrus australasica), the highly prized ‘jizong’ mushroom (Hymenopellis raphanipes), ‘muga’ silk (Antheraea assamensis), red rice, mangoes, avocados, and ‘saharong’, a high-quality fibre made from the drought-resilient Calotropis plant. The products are packaged with smartly designed Mountain Futures branding and are taken to market by various private-sector partners, through the Mountain Futures web site, and through the Mountain Futures WeChat and Weibo accounts.

By linking sustainable agricultural intensification with climate-smart practices, including agricultural residual recycling, the Platform is helping to restore degraded mountain ecosystems and empower local communities. This also helps preserve the cultural heritage of one of China’s most ethnically diverse regions. Through this unique synthesis of government, research institutes, and the private sector, the entire production chain will be linked to the entire value chain.

Integral to this is the Mountain Futures web site, which provides a detailed overview of Honghe, its people, and products, creating a full picture of where the food one buys originates. With certified organic red rice already on the market, and others pending organic certification, Mountain Futures products will stand out for their quality and brand identity.

The Mountain Futures Innovation Platform has strong national and international support, including the Chinese Academy of Sciences; Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences; World Agroforestry; Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations; United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization; and the United Nations Environment Programme. Through the expertise and resources of these world-leading organizations, the research conducted in Honghe will ultimately be applied to impoverished mountainous regions around the globe.







World Agroforestry (ICRAF) is a centre of scientific excellence that harnesses the benefits of trees for people and the environment. Knowledge produced by ICRAF enables governments, development agencies and farmers to utilize the power of trees to make farming and livelihoods more environmentally, socially and economically sustainable at multiple scales. ICRAF is one of the 15 members of the CGIAR, a global research partnership for a food-secure future. We thank all donors who support research in development through their contributions to the CGIAR Fund.'

William Julian

William Julian is Communications Officer for East and Central Asia. William is a published writer and photographer with extensive work experience in China. Prior to joining ICRAF, he was a Princeton in Asia Teaching Fellow at Shihezi University; worked at the Chinese National Climate Center in Beijing; worked on documentary films; and wrote for, a Columbia University Earth Institute website. He holds a Master’s degree in Anthropology from Columbia University.

You may also like...