New planting methods maintain farm output in drought-hit Yunnan

Updated: 2010-04-10 16:42
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TENGCHONG, Yunnan - Despite the worst drought in decades, a remote county in southwest China, on the Myanmar border, looks poised to maintain crop output this autumn thanks to the widespread use of water-saving techniques and more productive farming methods.

The drought, which has lingered since autumn, has left 98,600 people and 13,150 head of livestock with severe drinking water shortages in Tengchong county, Yunnan province, according to local authorities.

The county aimed to harvest 67,800 tons of summer grain this year, but output is expected to be down by 10,000 tons due to the drought, said Yang Yanchang, deputy director of Tengchong's agricultural bureau.

The hilly county, with a population of 640,000 and 5,845 square kilometers in size, grows wheat, barley and cole as major summer crops and rice for autumn harvest.

Despite the fall in rice yields, Tengchong aimed to raise annual production by adopting water-saving measures and growing less water-demanding crops, Yang said.

"We expect total grain output this year will reach 329,700 tons, 3.6 percent more than last year," Yang said, adding the monsoon season, which would start in May, would bring more rain to the county.

"The increase in output in autumn could recoup the summer losses," Yang said.

Rain from March 27 to April 3 had eased the situation in Tengchong, said Yang.

In Yong An village of Jie Tou, the biggest agricultural township of Tengchong, Li Hongshun, 52, has sown rice seeds on a dry soil bed in preparation for transplanting them to new fields.

The so-called "dry soil bed breeding" required two thirds less water compared to "wet soil bed breeding", where seedlings grow in water-soaked fields, Li Hongshun said.

Li said "dry-breeding" had practiced in the county for seven years and had resulted in stronger seedlings with higher yields.

In the normally rain-abundant Yunnan province, "wet breeding" is the tradition, but counties like Dayao and Nanhua in northeast and central Yunnan, the area worst affected by the drought, are adopting "dry-breeding" on a large scale.

"Dry-breeding also requires special training, and investment by farmers in polyethylene film and breeding frames for seedlings," said Yang Yanchang.

Shiyang Township, of Dayao County, was aiming for 2,000 mu (133 hectares) of dry-breeding this year, while Tengchong had a target of 40,000 mu, an increase of 10,000 mu from last year, said Yang.

The seedlings would supply 450,000 mu of rice growing area, accounting for 80 percent of the total in the county, Yang said.

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The county government also planned to grow 90,000 mu of less water-consuming corn instead of rice, boosting grain output by 200 kg per mu on average, said Yang.

Interplanting corn with potatoes or soybeans was encouraged to raise yields. The county government also aimed to raise tobacco production by 4,500 tons, giving locals an extra 80 million yuan ($11.7 million) in income.

A statement from Yunnan provincial government said the province was broadly adopting less water-consuming crops such as corn to replace rice in a bid to stabilize output, but specific figures were not available.

The Tengchong government also rolled out an 8-billion-yuan investment plan for this year on almost 100 projects, including building highways, hotels, and water channels, to provide jobs for redundant workers.