Between 2005 and 2007, PCD has supported four partners to promoting ecological agriculture in four localities in Guizhou. Each project had a different emphasis depending on the concerns and situations of each community. In Liufang Village of Liping County, integrated ecological farming practices were implemented. Project activities in Wayao Village in the vicinity of Guiyang put more efforts into environmental restoration and on retaining local breeds to preserve biodiversity. In Meitan County, the Guizhou Institute of Plant Protection drew on theories of biodiversity such as intercropping and ecological balance to conduct Participatory Action Research on the control of rice-blast disease. In Baiyi Township of Guiyang Municipality, the Integrated Development Center of Guizhou Academy of Agricultural Sciences worked with local communities to explore and develop different ecological farming methods including circular farm economy models.
In Liufang, cultivation of rice, corn and sweet potatoes are the major agricultural activities. Harvests usually enable year-round consumption. However household cash income is largely dependent on remittances from migrant labourers. Farmers suffer from problems caused by conventional farming, such as environmental and soil degradation, food contamination by pesticides, and low productivity.
Traditional knowledge and new skills
In 2006 and 2007, a project to promote ecological agriculture among Liufang’s poor ethnic minority communities was initiated by PCD in partnership with the College of National Resources and Environment of Guizhou University. Trainings in ecological farming and new agricultural technologies were organised. Light traps, bone meal solutions, commercial organic fertilizers and new crop varieties were introduced. Farmers were also encouraged to retain ecologically sound local wisdom in agricultural practices such as the rice-fish-duck farming system. A farmers’ group was formed to facilitate and coordinate the marketing of the first certified organic rice produced in Guizhou.
Over a two year period the number of households participating in organic cultivation in Liping has significantly increased as has the total land area being farmed in this way. Twenty-three households adopted organic rice cultivation methods in 2005. In 2007 this increased to one hundred and sixty. During the same period, the areas under organic cultivation increased from thirty to six hundred mu. Farmers in general are quite receptive to ecological farming because of a committed leadership, and many still have clear memories of the benefits of traditional farming practices. Meanwhile, communal cooperation has improved with the revival of the local Dong minority dialect and dances. It is now planned for the project to expand to nearby Gaoyin Village.
While the farmer group is up and active in marketing the organic produce, participation has been limited and passive. The cost of organic certification that helps marketing is too high for individual small farmers to afford. Continuous and accessible technical support and the identification of a local market with a demand for products is very much needed.
The environment in Wayao has been severely degraded through intensive application of chemical fertilizers and increased agricultural production. PCD works with the Institute of Biotechnology Science of the Guizhou Academy of Agricultural Sciences to promote recovery of the natural environment and to promote ecological agriculture. An interest group was set up in this regard. During the spring snow disaster in 2008, mulching saved rows of leeks and Chinese lettuce in Wayao, while those grown with conventional farming methods all perished. While many villages struggled in the dark waiting for government work teams to repair electricity lines which had collapsed under the weight of heavy snow, Wayao was lighted with biogas introduced by the project, and villagers worked together to put up fallen power posts themselves.