Overview Objectives

This project sought to optimise the use of resources in cropping for the production of both food-grain crops and fodder crops in central Tibet by carefully matching crop types to the agro-climatic environment.

Project Background and Objectives

Agriculture in the central area of Tibet Autonomous Region takes place mainly on the floors and lower slopes of river valleys. Soils are fertile and average rainfall, mostly falling between July and October, sufficient to support cropping. Barley, wheat, rapeseed, faba bean, maize, vegetables, potato and fodder crops are all grown. The high altitude of the cropping zone means growing periods are characterised by high sunshine intensity and large divergence between day and night temperatures. These characteristics require specific management practices for cropping.
Current levels of grain production are close to achieving self-sufficiency but need further improvement, as importing of grain to so remote a region is costly. This shortfall also has implications for livestock production, another very important component of agriculture in Tibet Autonomous Region. Animal rearing provides opportunities for additional cash incomes, but dependence on grassland grazing as the main form of fattening hampers growth rates in comparison to feeding with fodder crops. This poor nutrition remains an impediment to increased growth and limits possible cash returns.
Intensifying overall cropping in both grain and fodder production will result in improvements through the whole system - bringing cereal self-sufficiency closer and improving animal growth to boost incomes.

Progress Reports (Year 1, 2, 3 etc)

In this year the three project objectives, as given below, were addressed concurrently with the three major activities of Tibet Agricultural Research Institute (TARI) staff training in Australia, the research program in the Tibet Autonomous Region, and the research program in south Australia.

The project objectives are as follows:

To understand existing knowledge of the agro-climatic environment and farmer practice in central Tibet and identify best bet options for testing.

To develop more intensive cropping systems delivering adequate food grain and more forage.

Throughout to strengthen the capacity of the Tibetan scientists involved.

Three scientists from the TARI spent 12 weeks (March-May) in Australia hosted by the University of Adelaide (Roseworthy Campus). Their work concentrated on spoken and written English development, research methodology and research writing. In particular, the preparation of a review paper on past agronomic research in Tibet provided a focus for their training. The TARI visitors also worked on understanding the requirements for the development of a simple climate/environment based crop model. A research work plan was prepared whilst still in Australia and soon after their return to the Tibet Autonomous Region this plan was implemented with the assistance of the project Research Officer (Tom Giles).
The Research Officer was stationed in Tibet for 12 weeks, and guided TARI staff in establishing 3 experiment sites representing 3 distinct maturity environments. The experiments involved a replacement series with already established winter wheat into which was sown vetch. Basically this experiment was planned as a training exercise in research methodology and a focus for the 2005 field trials. Many lessons were learnt about constraints and understanding, and also useful data were obtained on light input (Leaf area index -LAI) and competition with the wheat and vetch. The Research Officer was also able to identify best site opportunities and germplasm availability (wheat, barley, lucerne) for the 2005 program. Another important aspect of this training phase resulted from the input of a new project in Tibet supported by FAO, and the dependency for this project on the TARI staff trained within the ACIAR project.
In Australia two main experiments have been undertaken. A glasshouse experiment investigating hydraulic lift (pigeon pea, sunflower) and a field experiment with wheat and pigeon pea sown as a relay intercrop. Both these experiments involved input from the TARI staff whilst they were in Australia. The purpose of the intercrop experiment was to establish if a crop such as pigeon pea can be utilised to de-water soil during a summer growth period on soils prone to stress due to winter-spring waterlogging. The experiment undertaken in 2004 involved different seeding rates and row spatial arrangement, with two wheat cultivars. The pigeon pea was sown into the wheat crop in September. At this stage only wheat yield data are available, with a range of yield from 2.5-5.0t/ha. LAI was also measure throughout the growing season with all treatments, and important interactions were observed in potential competition between the seeding rates, row spacing and varieties. Finally, 15 pigeon pea cultivars (some with waterlogging tolerance) were sourced from ICRISAT (India) and grown for seed production in quarantine. The generated seed is now being bulked up for inclusion in experiments as part of the Australian component of this project.

The present project has three major objectives: i) to develop understanding of the agro-climatic environment and farmer practice in Central Tibet; ii) to develop more intensive cropping systems delivering adequate food production and more fodder in Tibet; and iii) to strengthen the capacity of the project’s Tibetan scientists to conduct agronomic research.

During 2005, progress was again achieved against all of these objectives, with work particularly focussed on the training of Tibet Agricultural Research Institute (TARI) staff and on intercropping research in Tibet and Australia.

Two TARI staff members travelled to Australia for 12 weeks (March-May) training at the Roseworthy Campus of The University of Adelaide. As in 2004, training focussed on spoken and written English development, research methodology and research writing. This now brings the number of TARI staff trained in Adelaide to five. The experience and skill of this core group of researchers will be fundamental to TARI’s future efforts in participatory agricultural research in Tibet.

This year also saw an expansion of the project’s research program in Tibet, with the Australian Research Officer travelling to Tibet for a further 12 weeks to help manage and analyse existing intercropping experiments. Experiments targeted the identification of optimal planting densities and sowing dates for intercrops of winter cereal (wheat or barley) with fodder legumes (vetch and lucerne). For these studies, winter cereals had been sown in late 2004 (the Tibetan autumn) at a range of different densities, with fodder legumes sown in inter-row spaces at different times during June and July this year (the Tibetan summer). Data were then collected on cereal yields at time of cereal harvest (July - August) and on fodder production during the August - September period. While a number of problems were encountered in the work (for example, with heavy weed burdens, the harvest of fodder by stray livestock and unseasonally dry conditions at legume sowing times), results from the 2005 harvest were nonetheless encouraging. Where cereal establishment was good, satisfactory grain yields (around 5 tonnes/ha) could still be obtained at lower sowing densities in the presence of intercrop fodder plants. In addition, fodder yields around half those of pure fodder stands were produced via 50% fodder intercrops, with vetch producing approximately twice the dry matter of lucerne in the 6 months following establishment. Analysis of vetch sowing time data suggested that sowing vetch in early rather than late July is very advantageous from the perspective of fodder production. Although these results are preliminary, they suggest the intercropping system to have excellent productive potential in Tibet.

Other important activities undertaken in Tibet this year included ongoing involvement of project staff in FAO’s fodder double crop research and extension work, and the establishment of further density and sowing time experiments for the 2005-2006 experimental season.

The Australian side of the project also saw significant progress during 2005, with further experiments conducted to examine the performance of two commonly grown Australian wheat varieties, Wyalkatchem and Frame, at different sowing densities, row arrangements and with different levels of available water and nitrogen. As in 2004, these experiments were conducted in part as a training exercise for the visiting Tibetans, but still yielded valuable information on the way morphologically distinct varieties perform at different row spacings and under different conditions of resource availability. Work was also done to multiply seed of 15 pigeon pea cultivars imported from India and to examine the suitability of pigeon pea for use as a perennial intercrop in southern Australian conditions. This work is ongoing, but first year results show pigeon pea plants established in 2004 to have survived and thrived during 2005. Data on pigeon pea fodder and grain production will be collected during 2006.

During 2006, significant progress was again achieved against all project objects - namely, in the ongoing training of staff at the Tibet Agricultural Research Institute (TARI), in developing understanding of the agro-climate and current agricultural practices in Tibet’s cropping zone, and in the development of more intensive grain and fodder cropping systems for the zone.

Firstly, the project was able to welcome 3 new staff members to the Tibetan agronomy team this year - Ms Tse Yang (a Masters student), Ms Pima Drolma and Ms Gou Ying all joined the project over the course of the year. Together with the five staff members recruited during 2004 and 2005, this now brings the number of staff trained within Tibet and Australia through the project to eight. Australian Youth Ambassador for Development Samantha Grover and the Research Officer Nick Paltridge both made significant contributions to capacity building efforts at TARI during 2006, spending five and four months, respectively, at TARI and providing training in research methodology as well as in English language skills. The ongoing development of the young agronomists at TARI remains crucial to the development of a longer term agricultural research program in Tibet. In addition, a particular focus of Sam Grover’s assignment was to work with counterparts to set up the equipment and protocols appropriate to agronomic research at TARI - for example, balances, a drying oven, a grain moisture meter and a seed counter were all brought into use during the second half of 2006. These advances in human capacity and infrastructure remain crucial to the development of agronomic research in Tibet.

Excellent progress was also made this year in the development of baseline information on Tibetan agriculture. Given the dearth of reliable printed information on local agricultural systems, interviews were conducted in 45 different farming households across central Tibet’s cropping zone, exploring demographics, farm resources, the components of cropping and livestock enterprises and associated inputs and outputs. Attitudes to fodder production and system change were also assessed. These results have provided a more accurate picture of the typical Tibetan farm, informing our ongoing research work and providing a foundation for future efforts in extension. The interview process has also helped shift emphasis at TARI towards more participatory methods in agricultural research. In related work, and with the help of the Australian Youth Ambassador for Development, soils were described at key experimental sites, and soil samples were taken from farmer fields across central Tibet for nutrient analysis in Australia. An important initial result from these tests is that potassium and magnesium levels in Tibetan soils appear very low, and are probably an important constraint to grain production.

As in previous years, experimental work in 2006 focussed on the identification of optimal planting densities and sowing times for intercrops of winter-wheat or -barley with the fodder legumes vetch and lucerne - this time with more emphasis on plant nutrition and weed control. For the second consecutive year, it was found that excellent grain yields (~6t/ha) could be obtained at lower cereal crop densities, and in the presence of a relay-sown fodder legumes (ie, lucerne or vetch sown in the inter-row space of established wheat or barley stands). Initial data from cereal/lucerne intercrops set up by sowing wheat or barley into established lucerne stands suggest this approach to be unsuitable for grain production, at least with current management, since established lucerne almost completely suppressed cereal growth at the densities tested (single- and double-skip rows at 33%, 50% and 66% of normal cereal density). It is important that these data be validated in 2007, and alternative intercrop management systems evaluated. Emphasis was also placed on identifying new fodder crops for growth as sole crops in 2006, in collaboration with the FAO and Lan Zhou University. This year, 54 fodder species, mostly new to Tibet, were imported and sown in a replicated trial at TARI, providing a range of new introductions which performed as well as or better as sole crops than existing fodder crops. Success was also had in exploring the moisture conditions which best suit the establishment of broadcast-sown vetch, although weather conditions during the 2006 seeding period favoured the establishment of the broadcast seed irrespective of seed treatment or sowing time.

Data from Australian experiments work was limited in 2006, with spring sown fodder crops failing to germinate due to the extremely dry conditions. However, data were obtained on the relative water use of pigeon pea, forage sorghum and lablab, with a view to assessing their suitability as relay-sown intercrop forages in the south-east of SA.

Project Outcomes

The project was successful in obtaining information on the natural resource base and current systems for crop and fodder production in Tibet, and in compiling this into a comprehensive review. The researchers concluded that the valleys of central Tibet are highly suitable for the production of high-yielding grain crops, but that the current cropping systems leave significant plant growth resources unutilised. This review now provides a foundation for further agricultural research and development work both locally at Tibet Agricultural Research Institute (TARI) and with international collaborators.
Secondly, two different options were explored to boost fodder production in Tibet without unacceptable impacts on grain production - these were the broadcast-sowing of vetch (Vicia sativa) seed into maturing stands of winter wheat, and the inter-row sowing of vetch and lucerne (Medicago sativa) into widely sown crops of winter wheat and barley. The broadcast sowing of vetch allowed the production of around 3 tonnes per hectare of vetch in average rainfall years, with minimal impact on grain yield. The inter-row sowing of vetch allowed similar levels of vetch production, but led to grain yield reductions of 16-37%, while inter-row sown crops of lucerne led to grain yield reductions of at least 70-80%. As such, the broadcasting of vetch into maturing winter cereal crops appeared the best intercropping method.
Sole crops of vetch and lucerne produced dry matter yields of 8 and 14 tonnes per hectare, respectively. Over the course of the project zero-till equipment was brought into Tibet for the first time, and preliminary experiments suggest that double crops of vetch, sown using zero-till seeders in the Lhasa district, may also be a viable strategy for fodder production on many farms - yielding, for little extra work, around 5 tonnes per hectare of vetch hay.
At the conclusion of the project in 2007 the project team was able to recommend a number of best-bet strategies for producing fodder in three different agro-climatic areas within Tibet’s central cropping zone, and these methods are now ready for testing on farms.
Finally, excellent progress was made throughout the project in the area of capacity building, leading to the establishment at TARI of a strong research facility with the capacity to conduct agronomic research to drive agricultural development in Tibet well into the future.

Project ID
Project Country
Inactive project countries
Commissioned Organisation
University of Adelaide, Australia
Project Leader
Professor David Coventry
08 8303 7954
08 8303 7730
Collaborating Institutions
Tibet Agricultural Research Institute, China
Project Budget
Start Date
Finish Date
Extension Start Date
Extension Finish Date
ACIAR Research Program Manager
Dr Paul Fox