Sustainably feeding the world’s growing population is a challenge1, 2, 3, and closing yield gaps (that is, differences between farmers’ yields and what are attainable for a given region)4, 5, 6 is a vital strategy to address this challenge3, 4, 7. The magnitude of yield gaps is particularly large in developing countries where smallholder farming dominates the agricultural landscape4, 7. Many factors and constraints interact to limit yields3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, and progress in problem-solving to bring about changes at the ground level is rare. Here we present an innovative approach for enabling smallholders to achieve yield and economic gains sustainably via the Science and Technology Backyard (STB) platform. STB involves agricultural scientists living in villages among farmers, advancing participatory innovation and technology transfer, and garnering public and private support. We identified multifaceted yield-limiting factors involving agronomic, infrastructural, and socioeconomic conditions. When these limitations and farmers’ concerns were addressed, the farmers adopted recommended management practices, thereby improving production outcomes. In one region in China, the five-year average yield increased from 67.9% of the attainable level to 97.0% among 71 leading farmers, and from 62.8% to 79.6% countywide (93,074 households); this was accompanied by resource and economic benefits.
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Extended data figures and tables
Extended Data Figures
- Extended Data Figure 1: Distribution of STBs in China (left) and the location of Quzhou County as well as STB study areas in Quzhou (close-up map at right). (177 KB)
Each dot on the left map indicates an STB group at the county level; the number in the dots refers to the number of STBs in the county. Different colours refer to different cropping systems. The STBs presented in the close-up map at right are for wheat/maize rotation systems only. (Editor’s note: Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps.)
- Extended Data Figure 2: Variation in farmers’ standard practices for wheat (n = 150) and maize (n = 145) in Quzhou County based on 2009 survey results. (223 KB)
a, Wheat variety selection. The light shade means farmers used seeds reserved from their own harvest. b, Wheat-sowing date. October 10th was set as 0 because it was the recommended sowing date. c, Wheat-seeding rate. d, N application for wheat. e, Top-dressing date for wheat. April 1st was set as 0 because it was the stem elongation stage. f, Maize variety selection. g, Sowing date of maize. June 10th was set as 0 because it was the recommended sowing date. h, Maize planting density. i, Maize-harvesting date Oct 1st was set as 0 because it was the recommended harvest date of maize. j, N application rate on maize.
Extended Data Tables
- Supplementary Information (287 KB)
This file contains Supplementary Tables 1-5, a Supplementary Discussion and additional references.