Can crop diversification solve crop production sustainability problems in the North China Plain? 

Finding the balance between increasing agricultural production and mitigating negative externalities of agriculture is a challenge, especially in developing countries which are dominated by smallholder farming. Crop diversification is seen as a promising way to reduce chemical inputs and maintain robust high crop yields through biotic interactions. The aim of the project is to explore the feasibility of diversified cropping systems in the North China Plain to see if diversified cropping systems can achieve multi-objective optimization.


More sustainable and resilient production is needed to decrease the impact of agriculture on the biosphere and ensure a stable food supply for the coming decades and increasing population. There is ample evidence that agriculture that uses large quantities of anthropogenic inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides, while using a limited number of genetically uniform species and cultivars, negatively affects the environment and biodiversity, while it nevertheless ensures high and stable food production. To avoid the adverse effects of high input agriculture with few species, diversification is proposed as a potential remedy. North China Plain (NCP) is one of the main food sources in China, 50.6% and 27.3% of the national total wheat and maize are cultivated in the NCP in 2018. At the same time, there are plenty of sustainability challenges in crop production in NCP, including serious N losses, groundwater depletion, pesticides overuse, agricultural labour shortage and low agricultural income. Therefore, it is needed to know if crop diversification can solve sustainability problems in NCP and to what extent.  

Project description

The project is divided into three parts to answer the question: does crop diversification solve crop production problems and meet multiple objectives in the North China Plain (NCP)?

The first part is to describe the current crop production sustainability challenges in Quzhou county, a representative county of NCP. In this part, a farm household survey is conducted to collect information about crop activities, farms’ and farmers’ attributes and inputs-outputs of crop production. After that, we can know what is the crop activities in Quzhou; the sustainability problems in Quzhou is a small problem or a widespread issues; if there is any optimal farms who performs well in crop production. 

The second part is to explore the potential contributions of diversified cropping system on agricultural sustainability. This part uses meta-analysis to collect global data to quantify the benefits of intercropping and longer crop rotation in productivity, resource use efficiency and yield stability. 

The third part is to match local objectives and constraints with knowledge from global research on the results of diversification. This part discuss how much improvement will be made when different diversified cropping systems are introduced to Quzhou county.  

All in all, the project tries to answer the question: what potential does crop diversification have to contribute to different goals of sustainable agriculture: to provide sufficient food without detrimental effects or risks for resources or the environment to assure profitability for farmers.