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A plea for Climate Field Schools in China - Part II: Agrometeorological services in China

Last modified November 29, 2010 10:19

I have lectured and travelled for advisory purposes in China almost annually since 1996, initially particularly in Nanjing, Beijing and Inner Mongolia. In several missions with Prof. Zheng Dawei to various provinces from 2004, we prepared a preliminary project submission to the China Meteorological Administration (CMA) at the end of 2007. In those visits, in 2008 together with either Prof. Wang Shili or Mr. Ma Yuping, we collected information on agrometeorological services being developed in the Provincial Meteorological Services/Bureaus concerned (Ningxia, Hebei, Inner Mongolia, Jiangxi, Henan).

Kees Stigter (Agromet Vision, Indonesia and the Netherlands, cjstigter@usa.net)

 

I have lectured and travelled for advisory purposes in China almost annually since 1996, initially particularly in Nanjing, Beijing and Inner Mongolia. In several missions with Prof. Zheng Dawei to various provinces from 2004, we prepared a preliminary project submission to the China Meteorological Administration (CMA) at the end of 2007. In those visits, in 2008 together with either Prof. Wang Shili or Mr. Ma Yuping, we collected information on agrometeorological services being developed in the Provincial Meteorological Services/Bureaus concerned (Ningxia, Hebei, Inner Mongolia, Jiangxi, Henan).

This included the ways these services were carried out in local extension modes. Information sheets on the latest visits in September/October 2008 and some history of each case, where applicable, were earlier posted (Stigter et al., 2008a; b; c; d; e). Much of the basic information below will also become available in Stigter (2010) in a wider context. Exercises like this are always “work in progress”, but the developing world everywhere can learn a great deal from the valuable approaches, experiences and information preliminary made available to us on agrometeorological services in China. We know that there is much more available than we covered so far in English.

 

Agrometeorological extension in China and roles for CFSs

First lessons to be learned are (i) the necessity of a strong co-operation of meteorological and agronomical offices to combine trustable data and (ii) the importance of the art of reaching farmers with the information available/needed. One may call the agrometeorological extension system in China in most cases a “cascade” system, from Provincial Level to Sub-Provincial Level to County Level and Township Level to Village Level. At the lower levels, extension officers and village technicians must play an important role (see also Stigter et al., 2007).

For example in the current decision making approaches on irrigation from soil moisture forecasting in Henan Province, important agrometeorological information has been successfully delivered to local governments and authorities. They disseminate it down to farming technique facilitation stations at township and village levels. The latter, in turn, show local farmers how to plant and irrigate on a guided basis and how to prevent or get prepared for agricultural hazards. However, some of this information and these services are not directly and quickly accessed by farmers. Farmers are able to get informed of general weather forecasts through some media, including TV and telephone. But too many are unable to receive detailed and practical recommendations on amounts and timing of irrigation. CFSs would be a solution to these problems.

There was a different extension mode in a successful agrometeorological service in Jiangxi Province, of establishing relay intercropping of late rice with lotus. Eight times a kind of Climate Field Classes was organized to demonstrate and popularize the method with the target groups concerned. An office was available for training. A comparison of such an approach with the “cascade” down coming of extension information in China would be a great last phase of the pilot projects started, also comparing class training with field training in CFSs. Even where the information supply line is short, such as in the case on peony flowering to the Luoyang City (Henan) Government and the City Office for Flowers, to benefit organizing the annual Peony Show, these services still can not be made available to flower growers directly. Simple Field Classes would solve this issue.

 

Case studies

Variety planning

There was another successful agrometeorological service on crop variety planning related to thermal time in frost limited growth periods in one Sub-Province of Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. We visited a Sub-County Office that had the developed model on its computers and was able to give advisories at all levels, from village to government, on varieties suitable for given conditions. They regularly trained extension people, till the level of village technician, in using the model and/or asking the right questions for use of the model. The role of farmer technicians, progressive farmers that can demonstrate other farmers the use of varieties, appeared important at the lowest levels. The institutionalization was well on track.

However, province and county wide the service network was presently considered inadequate. The agricultural production involved more than one sector and linkages, and the agrometeorological service delivery lacked both human and financial resources. Therefore, the promotion solely by agrometeorological specialists was limited. It is necessary for other actors, like agricultural technique facilitation bodies, seed services, grassroot weather stations and township meteorological assistants to take part. Support from local governments is required before the applications can be expanded at village and household levels. And it is here that Climate Field Schools could be of an enormous impact.

 

Sowing advice depending on soil frost melting

Sowing advice depending on the frost melting condition in autumn irrigated top soil concerns a preliminary agrometeorological service for spring wheat growers in Inner Mongolia. This case study is an example of response farming, where an advisory on the earliest possible sowing date is required to have good wheat yields. But too early sowing can destroy seeds/seedlings.

The advices are spread by reports to the government, connections with other departments (Agronomy, Engineering/Machinery etc.) and field meetings at various levels, that include extension officers and farmers, in the same “cascade” system already mentioned. Broadcasting of sowing advices is via television programmes received here mostly by cable, rural radio, rural community radio, and SMS messages, that are becoming more and more popular. This latter channel of information flow appears to work well because the reception of such (short) messages is related to the small payment made for the mobile phones by each farmer in the months in which this is important.

Although successful, farmers hope for more accurate and timely forecasts and more preventive measures. The forecasting methods need to be improved. Field experiments and research should be strengthened, in order to improve forecast accuracy and validity and to find better measures for hazard prevention or reduction. Lessons learned are that, where possible, Services should collaborate to use the agrometeorological service, that can best be organized by the government. Indeed, response farming appears necessary in which actual conditions are followed for updating of the preliminary advices given. Climate Field Schools would be of tremendous help here also.

 

Mulching and water use efficiency

A large number of experiments has shown that straw mulching can improve moisture, fertilizer, air and heat conditions in the soil. This reduces various ecological problems related to drought and effects such as environmental pollution due to residue burning. The practice was shown to be effective for winter wheat, maize and other crops in China. From the perspective of water, the effects are to reduce soil evaporation. In terms of fertilization, straw residues fertilize the soil after long-term physical effects and chemical decomposition. This is a long accumulative process and becomes tangible in the farmlands with multi-year straw mulching.

It was proposed in Hebei Province that the training on mulching techniques should be oriented to agricultural technicians and farmers in the targeted areas for promoting wider use. Technical researchers and facilitators should go to the villages and hold training seminars, explaining basic principles and technical points, the best mulching time, amounts of straw to be used, etc. Technical material easy for farmers to read and understand about straw mulching for winter wheat should be prepared. During the growing stage of winter wheat before winter comes, technical facilitators should go to the fields to disseminate dedicated service leaflets to farmers. They can discuss drought prevention and water saving techniques for winter wheat. This could all better be done in Climate Field Schools.

 

Plastic greenhouses in winter

Plastic greenhouses have changed farming practices in northern China. They also tend to make full use of labor resources in rural areas. This is in line with China’s conditions since farmers have greater economic returns with lower investments. No services for greenhouses did exist. The low temperature and sunshine conditions that limit production as well as more serious dangers needed an institutionalized early warning system benefiting the vegetable growers using these simple greenhouses.

There is dissemination in Hebei Province of the service of forecasting days with less than 3 hours of sunshine and some weather disasters, including low temperatures, for vegetable crops (in monoculture or intercropping) in winter in plastic greenhouses. The Provincial Meteorological Bureau does this to the government and the farmers through special weather forecasts. So, finally there is the lesson here of the importance of simply using existing and improved general - and of course where possible special - weather forecasts (and short range climate forecasts) explicitly as an agrometeorological service. Climate Field Schools could be used to make farmers familiar with interpreting and using such forecasts and other information. This was recently tried on a pilot scale in India by Murthy (2008) and exemplified for microclimate information from that work in Stigter (2010).

 

Conclusion

In rather some places in China, apart from radio and TV as well as SMS messages on mobile phones, there is other dissemination of weather and climate information. This is done through visits, through telephone by using special numbers, through printed leaflets of some of the information or via the internet with separate weather and agricultural sites. However, Climate Field Schools would reach and stimulate many more farmers much better and would have all the organizational and other advantages that Farmer Field Schools showed to have (see Part I of this paper).

 

Acknowledgements

For the information collection for this second part, on behalf of Agromet Vision and the Asian Picnic Model Project (APMP) I am much indebted to Prof. Zheng Dawei (China Agricultural University, Beijing) for many years of joint efforts. The China Meteorological Administration (Beijing) is thankfully acknowledged for letting us work with the Provincial Meteorological Services/Bureaus and for core funding the 2008 mission. Here we were joined by Prof. Wang Shili, Mr. Ma Yuping and numerous provincial agrometeorologists and other officers, at all levels, that informed us on their latest successes and worries.

 

References

  • Murthy, V.R.K., 2008. Report on the project entitled “WMO-ANGRAU-DST sponsored Roving Seminars on Weather, Climate and Farmers”, available on the INSAM website (www.agrometeorology.org) under “Needs for agrometeorological solutions to farmer problems”.
  • Stigter, C.J., 2009. Scientific support to the establishment and validation of agrometeorological services. SciTopics. Research summaries by experts. Elsevier.
  • http://www.scitopics.com/Scientific_support_to_the_establishment_and_validation_of_agrometeorological_services.html
  • Stigter, Kees (Ed.), 2010. Applied agrometeorology. Springer, Heidelberg etc., in press.
  • Stigter C.J., Tan Ying, H.P. Das, Zheng Dawei, R.E. Rivero Vega, Nguyen van Viet, N.I. Bakheit and Y.M. Abdullahi, 2007. Complying with farmers' conditions and needs using new weather and climate information approaches and technologies. In: M.V.K. Sivakumar and R.P. Motha (Eds.), Managing weather and climate risks in agriculture. Springer, New York, pp 171-190.
  • Stigter Kees, Liu Jing, Zheng Dawei, Ma Yuping, Wang Shili, 2008a. Further identification of two agrometeorological services in Ningxia Autonomous Region, Western China. Information sheet resulting from a field mission in China in September/October. Available on the INSAM website (www.agrometeorology.org) under Accounts of Operational Agrometeorology of 17 November.
  • Stigter Kees, Li Chunqiang, Zheng Dawei, Wang Shili, Ma Yuping, 2008b. Further identification of two agrometeorological services in Hebei Province, China. Information sheet resulting from a field mission in China in September/October. Available on the INSAM website (www.agrometeorology.org) under Accounts of Operational Agrometeorology of 17 November.
  • Stigter Kees, Niu Baoliang, Yang Song, Hou Qiong, Zheng Dawei, Ma Yuping, Wang Shili, 2008c. Recent identification of two agrometeorological services in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Northern China. Information sheet resulting from a field mission in China in September/October. Available on the INSAM website (www.agrometeorology.org) under Accounts of Operational Agrometeorology of 17 November.
  • Stigter Kees, Xie Yuanyu, Liao Zhihui, Rao Qiusheng, Li Yingchun, Zheng Dawei, Wang Shili, Ma Yuping, 2008d. Recent identification of two agrometeorological services in Jiangxi Province, Southern China. Information sheet resulting from a field mission in China in September/October. Available on the INSAM website (www.agrometeorology.org) under Accounts of Operational Agrometeorology of 17 November
  • Stigter K, Chen Huailiang, Yu Weidong, Liu Ronghua, Zheng Dawei, Wang Shili, Ma Yuping, 2008e. Recent identification of two agrometeorological services in Henan Province, Central China. Information sheet resulting from a field mission in China in September/October. Available on the INSAM website (www.agrometeorology.org) under “Accounts of Operational Agrometeorology” of 17 November.
  • WMO/FAO/IFAD/UNCCD/WFP, 2009. Climate information for securing food. Fact sheet #4, prepared for the 3rd World Climate Conference, Geneva, 4 pp. www.wmo.int/wcc3

 

 

A Chinese version of this paper has been published in LEISA (China) in an issue of 2010, and is available on our website from the homepage under "Translations", Chinese.

 

 

BOX 1 of Part II: Early warning of wolfberry fungus disease

Through CFSs other problems we saw could also be solved. Although most wolfberry growing farmers in Ningxia Autonomous Region have television or mobile phones to receive information, they generally don’t watch or subscribe to weather service information. The important information that has become available as “early warning of wolfberry fungus disease” could be released via mobile phones across the region. However, because of cost constraints, these means can not be used for delivering conventional weather services for wolfberry growers. Generally, disease control and timely wolfberry harvesting are conducted only after the information has been confirmed by local agricultural and plant protection departments, thus leading to losses due to delays.

According to the terms of reference of agencies, information on monitoring and forecasts of crop diseases and pests should be issued by agricultural technology facilitation and plant protection departments. The Meteorological Bureaus can only issue grade forecasts of weather conditions for possible outbreak of the wolfberry fungus disease. Collaboration in Climate Field Schools would solve this information divide. The same applies to other problems reported from Ningxia (WMO et al., 2009).

 

 

 

BOX 2 of Part II: Growing sites for citrus

Although well developed as an agrometeorological service, rather some citrus growers in Jiangxi Province are not fully aware of agrometeorological information for avoiding or reducing meteorological hazards, especially in selection of growing sites. As winter comes, due to such factors as large acreage, complex terrains, etc., farmers are often helpless, without any effective measures to take. Due to functional limitations of the Meteorological Bureaus, it is not common for agrometeorologists to involve themselves practically in agrometeorological services for citrus site selection and hazards prevention. In collaboration with authorities concerned, useful technical services are as such mainly provided to citrus growers indirectly. Direct farmer oriented services are rare. Citrus growers have low awareness of weather information and services, due to their limited coverage. Climate Field Schools could relieve many of these problems.

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