Around 21 million smallholder farmers in China have developed more sustainable production methods thanks to a decade-long initiative.

The collaborative campaign was led by a team of international researchers, scientists, graduate students and tens of thousands of local agents and agribusiness personnel. They reached 20.9 million farmers spread across 452 counties in China.

Using an ‘integrated soil-crop system management program, or ISSM’, to determine the types of crops, optimum planting dates and fertilisers which best suit different climates, the campaign team set about sharing that information with the smallholders. It resulted in a 10% increase in crop yields and slashed fertiliser use by up to 18%, equating to a financial saving of $12.2 billion.

“The extent of the improvement in terms of yield increase and fertilizer decrease was great,” said Professor Zhengxia Dou, from the University of Pennsylvania’s. “But it was not a surprise as similar results had been attained before. It was the scale of it all, approaching it with an all-out effort and multi-tiered partnerships among scientists, extension agents, agribusinesses, and farmers, achieving a snowball effect. That, to me, is the most impressive takeaway.”