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Erle Ellis: Research Projects: 1993 - 1997

Tai Lake Village Nitrogen Project


Research Approach
Learning from China's long experience with sustainable agriculture
For centuries, farmers sustained high rice yields (4 metric tonnes per hectare) in the rice/wheat double cropping systems of China's Tai Lake Region using only 100 kg of N per hectare per year (Ellis and Wang 1997).  Current annual paddy N inputs exceed 500 kg N per hectare and nitrate pollution and eutrophication are now common in the Region (Ma, 1997).  To test the hypothesis that the region's ecologically sustainable traditional agroecosystems recycled more nutrients than modern systems under the same environmental conditions, we compare nitrogen cycling in village-scale ecosystems under traditional and contemporary management.  Side by side comparisons of traditional and modern agroecosystems are rarely possible because agriculturally productive areas usually modernize before marginal areas.  We therefore compare contemporary and traditional (circa 1930) village-scale nitrogen cycling by integrating household and landscape data collected on-site from 1993 to 1996 with historical data from reference materials and village elder interviews in a typical floodplain village of the region (Ellis et al. 2000a, Ellis et al. 2000b).