Liming farmers brace for dry season with cover crops

Discussing winter crops at Farmer Li's farm

Discussing winter crops at Farmer Li’s farm

In the newest episode in our Liming saga, farmers have taken initiative to grow the cover crops after harvest rather than before, as originally advised. ICRAF went to find out why and came with new recommendations for the late sowing of cover crops. Farmers also got a chance to voice their concerns about their participation in the Seeds of Beauty programme.

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

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

The workshops complement an agroforestry project that was launched in 2012 by Pur Projet and Zigen Fund, following a request from French skincare company Clarins to set up a project that would help research rare Yunnan plants whilst protecting these plants. For Clarins, this Yunnan project forms part of the company’s “Seeds of Beauty” program, which regroups projects implemented in different countries, aimed at protecting biodiversity and the rare plant resources on which the company depends.

A soil management manual for farmers in Liming County.

A soil management manual for farmers in Liming County.

Farmers remain enthusiastic about growing cover crops that prevent the soil from drying out during Yunnan’s lengthy dry season. Originally, they were going to sow the crops before harvest so that the crops could establish before the end of the rainy season. But, since this year’s rains arrived unusually late, the farmers postponed sowing cover crops, allowing them some breathing space in the busy harvest period. While farmers are encouraged to make their own decisions, it is still important that they understand the implications of sowing late (such as frost and diminishing sunlight hours). A cover crop workshop was held in mid-October in cooperation with partner Zigen to fulfill this need.

From the workshop emerged that of the four initially suggested cover crops – vetch, alfalfa, radish, and buckwheat – only vetch was deemed sufficiently frost tolerant for post-harvest sowing. Zigen agreed to purchase 40 kg of vetch seed for the participating farmers. The workshop then moved on to the topic of using these crops as fodder for the farmers’ livestock. Most fodder is grown on farm, only goats would also be grazed in forests. ICRAF introduced each cover crop’s nutritional value, as well as their appropriate use and management techniques.

Seeds of Beauty participation

Both organizations followed with a planning session, where the farmers were given a chance to voice their concerns and priorities for their participation in the Seeds of Beauty project in Meile and Liguang Villages. The farmers felt most comfortable presenting in their native Lisu, a small language with less than a million speakers, but fortunately supported the presentation with tables written in standard Chinese.

Voicing concerns and expectations for the participation in Clarins' Seeds of Beauty programme

Voicing concerns and expectations for the participation in Clarins’ Seeds of Beauty programme

The farmers found that they need more coaching with a range of topics, such as the marketing of their walnuts. After their visit to the walnut cooperatives in Baoshan earlier this year, the farmers have started setting up their own cooperatives with support from Zigen. The organization is also offering to organize computer literacy workshops to help farmers sell their walnuts through online channels. ICRAF will help out with technical assistance to introduce fodder trees to the farms to feed the goats, and with training on organic fertilizer management and the identification of plant nutrient deficiencies.

The farmers also raised a not unimportant complaint. They found that their indigenous culture was being eroded and wanted to revive such practices as the production of goat skin clothing. Pur Project and Zigen promised to look into traditional agricultural and forestry practices and integrate these into the training. They would also look into the marketability of traditional products, as these often have great value in a world where mass-produced items are ubiquitous.'

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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