Crop and Pasture Science Crop and Pasture Science Society
Plant sciences, sustainable farming systems and food quality

Agriculture in central Tibet: an assessment of climate, farming systems, and strategies to boost production

Nicholas Paltridge A F , Jin Tao B , Murray Unkovich A , Alessandra Bonamano C , Alexandra Gason A , Samantha Grover D , John Wilkins E , Nyima Tashi B and David Coventry A
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A School of Agriculture Food and Wine, Waite Campus, The University of Adelaide, PMB 1, Glen Osmond, SA 5064, Australia.

B Tibet Agricultural Research Institute, Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region, China.

C Department of Environmental Agronomy and Crop Production, University of Padova, Italy.

D School of Environmental and Life Sciences, Charles Darwin University, Darwin, NT 0909, Australia.

E NSW Department of Primary Industries, Wagga Wagga Agriculture Institute, Private Bag, Wagga Wagga, NSW 2650, Australia.

F Corresponding author. Email:

Crop and Pasture Science 60(7) 627-639
Submitted: 22 October 2008  Accepted: 23 April 2009   Published: 14 July 2009


In the south of the Tibet Autonomous Region of China there is a network of valleys where intensive agriculture is practiced. Although considered highly productive by Tibetans, farm incomes in the region are low, leading to a range of government initiatives to boost grain and fodder production. However, there is limited information available on current farming practices, yields, and likely yield constraints. The present paper uses available data and farmer interviews to describe the agro-climate and current systems of crop and livestock production, and considers possible strategies to boost production. Although winters in Tibet are cold and dry, summer and autumn provide ideal conditions for crop growth. Cropping systems are characterised by heavy tillage, frequent irrigation, high seeding rates and fertiliser applications, some use of herbicides, and little stubble retention or mechanisation. Spring barley and winter wheat are the predominant crops, followed by rapeseed, winter barley, and minor fodder and vegetable crops. Average yields for the main grain crops are around 4.0 t/ha for spring barley and 4.5 t/ha for winter wheat, significantly lower than should be possible in the environment. Farmers typically keep five or six cattle tethered near the household. Cattle are fed diets based on crop residues but are generally malnourished and rarely produce beyond the needs of the family. It is suggested that research and extension in the areas of crop nutrition, weed control, irrigation, seeding technology, and crop varieties should enable significant increases in grain yield. Increases in cattle production will require increases in the supply of good quality fodder. Cereal/fodder intercrops or double crops sown using no-till seed drills might enable the production of useful amounts of fodder in many areas without jeopardising food grain supply, and allow more crop residues to be retained in fields for improved soil health.

Additional keywords: socio-economic constraint, subsistence, poverty.


This work was supported by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research. Samantha Grover and Alexandra Gason were supported in Tibet by the Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development scheme. Peter Hobbs is thanked for suggestions on the manuscript.


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