With population and economic development pressures in China heavily impacting the availability of freshwater and causing widespread decline in soil health quality, scientists funded by the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the National Science Foundation of China have teamed up on a programme of in-depth studies.
The aim is to understand how best to sustain China's struggling ecosystem services, which are integral to the provisioning of clean water, the decomposition of waste and the natural pollination of crops. Research areas include soil formation, erosion and greenhouses gases, in addition to consideration of social factors driving farming practice and how farmers get information on better practices.
A team of 12 UK partners and 15 Chinese institutions are now looking, as part of a follow-on project, to develop a range of tools that can guide policy and farming, from smartphone apps that farmers can use in the field to specialist software that can test the environmental impacts of farm practices over large areas of land.
Project lead, professor Paul Hallett of the University of Aberdeen's School of Biological Sciences, said: "This has produced a wealth of knowledge that will allow our new follow-on project, MIDST-CZO, to seek a step-change in improved practices and policy in China to sustain soil and water resources. Farming is changing rapidly in China with a strong drive to reverse soil degradation, use less fertiliser and water, and clean up impacts to the environment. The new tools we are developing aim to give policymakers and farmers confidence that they can achieve win-wins of less costs, greater yields and more profit, coupled with a lower impact of farming to the environment."
Professor Steve Banwart from the University of Leeds added: "This project harnesses a huge pool of talent from both countries and links it to practical advances for farmers and companies involved in agriculture in China, and contributes to global efforts to supply safe food, pure water and a clean environment to future generations."
Professor Ganlin Zhang from the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Soil Science, who is one of the lead scientists involved from China, said: "We are looking forward to continued collaboration with our colleagues in the UK. The observatories established in China are producing fascinating findings on how the environment works, so it is exciting to use this new information to guide better farming practices. We hope our tools will help innovate agricultural production in other parts of the world, aiming to improve the profitability of farming and its environmental impact at the same time."