Research highlight

Ecology: Engaging farmers narrows yield gaps in China


September 8, 2016

Over 90,000 farming households in China achieved a substantial increase in yield of wheat and maize over a five-year period (2009-2014) in which scientists lived and worked in their villages, engaging them and sharing knowledge. The results of this participatory approach, presented in Nature this week, may help to close yield gaps - differences between farmers’ actual yields and those thought to be attainable in a given region - and enhance food security in other parts of the world, the authors propose.

Fusuo Zhang and colleagues present the results of yield experiments carried out from 2009 to 2014 in various villages in Quzhou County, China. During this time, scientists lived among and worked with farmers, with the aim of advancing technology transfer. The scientists first interviewed 150 farmers from villages in the region and conducted field experiments in order to identify the major factors contributing to the yield gaps (namely crop variety, plant density, sowing time and fertilizer management). Using this information, they put together a set of ten recommended practices incorporating feedback from leaders in the farming community. Adoption of these practices led to a five-year average yield increase from 67.9% of the attainable level to 97.0% by 71 leading farmers, and from 62.8% to 79.6% countywide (93,074 households). As well as production-oriented events, various social-cultural activities were organized throughout the study in order to encourage farmers to adopt practices.

The authors also reached out and gained support from government and private enterprises, leading to greater resources and economic benefits for the farmers.

doi: 10.1038/nature19368

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