Babysteps for Agroforestry in Liming, China

Three researchers from the World Agroforestry Centre’s East and Central Asia office held a two-day workshop to train farmers in agroforestry for their remote villages of Liguang and Meile, Liming County, north-western Yunnan.

Liguang and Meile farmers discussing the outcomes of the training. © Tim McLellan / ICRAF

Liguang and Meile farmers discussing the outcomes of the training. Photo © Tim McLellan / ICRAF

Partners in Liming are Clarins, Zigen Fund, and Pur Projet

Partners in Liming are Clarins, Zigen Fund, and Pur Projet

The agroforestry project had been set up as early as 2012 by Pur Projet and Zigen Fund, organizations committed to human-centred sustainable development and ecosystem protection. The activities are a part of an ongoing project under the auspices of Clarins, the French cosmetics company. In March 2015, they called on the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) to help out with the training. In collaboration with the Baoshan Forestry Bureau, ICRAF set up a two-day workshop in Baoshan prefecture. The location, while a few hundred kilometres south of the participants’ native Liming, provided better access to established agroforestry farms and nurseries.

Five farmers, who will in turn train their peers, were invited and travelled down to participate in this workshop, expecting to learn from the agroforestry experiences in Baoshan, and to develop their knowledge of agroforestry and agroforestry techniques. ICRAF dispatched researchers Anne Ostermann, Tim McLellan and Jun He to the workshop to assess the current situation in the villages of Liguang and Meile.

The researchers held group exercises to identify the core issues with soil management in Liming County. Four types of fertilizer were identified. The most basic ones are made of composted manure of both animal and human origin, combined with livestock bedding and litter from the surrounding forest. One Meile farmer had fertilized his trees with oilseed cakes from rape, which he claimed showed better results than when he used goat manure. NPK and compound chemical fertilizers are only used when necessary. The farmers had discontinued their use of leguminous fertilizer crops because they were depleting Liming’s scarce water supply.

In dealing with soil erosion, Liguang farmers had attempted to grow trees but later cut some of them down where they competed with the crops for the region’s scarce water resources. Meile farmers, however, had employed a different approach. On fields where the available water cannot support trees and crops, they cultivated forage grass for their goats and cattle between the trees. In another bid to counter soil erosion, they had terraced the slopes to grow crops.

Discussing pruning techniques. Photo © Tim McLellan / ICRAF

Discussing pruning techniques. Photo © Tim McLellan / ICRAF

Experts in the field

The farmers were also given the opportunity to liaise with their peers in Baoshan and learn from their experiences with agroforestry. At a walnut agroforestry farm, the participants gained insight in the subtleties of agroforestry: picking the right time and place. The local community leader explained how specific crops thrived together with the walnut trees at the different stages of the trees’ development. The Baoshan community had also erected a walnut growers’ collective to coordinate the harvest, processing and selling of walnuts, ensuring the best returns for the community. Mr Li, one of the participants from Meile, said this was an “invaluable opportunity to understand the benefits and practicalities of setting up a collective.”

Visiting an orchard the next day, the farmers learned more about pruning techniques. The Meile farmer who had experimented with oilcakes as fertilizer was delighted to find out that the orchard managers used the same technique. Both quickly were wrapped up in a discussion about each other’s experiences. The Liguang and Meile farmers would also explore ways to market their crops online after learning about this practice at the orchard.

But what impressed the visitors even more, was a visit to a village that had achieved considerable success managing pine forests for truffles, pine nuts and matsutake, a high-value mushroom. The villagers employed strategies including the parcelling off of forests to individual families, protecting the forest ecosystem and taking other steps to ensure the quality of the matsutake. “In Liguang and Meile we have plenty of matsutake, but we make much less money from it because we cannot keep the quality consistent,” said miss He who leads the women’s group in Liguang, “if we manage to follow the Baoshan example, our incomes will skyrocket.”

Towards a healthy and profitable ecosystem

The farmers and the researchers then continued to set out strategies for agroforestry development in Liming County. Seven main activities were identified, which ICRAF pledged to support with training. Partnerships with other non-profit organizations and financial support from Pur Projet would drive the activities, which include the construction of irrigation tanks, providing training in walnut management, and developing a platform for the online marketing of agricultural products and medicinal plants.

“These activities are merely the next steps in the long-term process of developing an agroforestry system that supports a vibrant and healthy ecosystem,” says Jun He of ICRAF. “Yet in the short run, these intermediate goals enhance existing agroforestry systems and build confidence in agroforestry as a profitable and sustainable way of life.”'

Sander Van de Moortel

After obtaining his master's degree in linguistics and, later, journalism, Sander Van de Moortel chose to  leave his native Belgium for more adventurous lands. After a stint as a product manager for a German IT firm, he landed in China in 2011 after taking a wrong turn on a bike trip through Viet Nam. Comfortably trapped in Yunnan by his linguistic ambitions and his somewhat complicated relationship with China, Van de Moortel has been responsible for communications at the World Agroforestry Centre's East and Central Asia office, and is now assisting the communications unit in the Southeast Asia office. His research is almost exclusively focussed on exploring Southeast Asia's colourful patchwork by bicycle.

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