Phase 3: Interpreting Information

Updated 1 year 4 days ago

In Phase 0, we worked on getting started with topic selection and exploration. Next, we considered some big questions that we needed to answer during our trip and put them into Phase 1 of our inquiry work. In Phase 2, we started looking into some helpful resources that will prove to be a huge help to us while we research and gain an understanding of our topics. In Phase 3, my workspace will include facts I learn both during and before the trip. I will begin to dig into background information with my sources below. I will be finding information from 3 to 5's and will gain information from local contacts. I will also answer some questions I had in Phase 1.

Background Information (from Phase 1):

The Yunnan province is a province in south-central China. It has an area of 168,400 square kilometers. It is one of the largest provinces in China. About one-third of its population is made of ethnic minorities[2]

In the Yunnan province, there are many crops that are considered important in the field and to the population. The major crop that they grow is rice. Other important crops include corn (maize), coffee, wheat, garlic, barley, sweet potatoes, oilseeds, sugarcane, tea, tobacco, cotton, hemp, and flowers[1,2]. Farmers also raise cattle, goats, hogs, and horses[2]. Most families use the food they grow as a food source and gain an income by selling their produce at local markets. 

From May through October, rice, corn, and melons are the primary crops grown in the area. The cooler remainder of the year, they tend to grow wheat, broad beans, canola seeds, and garlic[3]

Because of China's topography which includes many mountains and lowlands, and its climate which varies throughout the regions. Altogether, China has about 300 million acres of land that has been cultivated. The Chinese found different ways to make the soil fit for farming uses. For example, they would take all of their organic waste and put it into the soil to use as a fertilizer. Over time, China has developed extremely rich soil which has been found to be very useful for farming[4].

There are many tools that are used by farmers to make the process easier. Some important ones include the sickle, shovel, and thresher. A sickle is a long blade that is used to chop down crops such as grain and rice during the harvesting process. A shovel is used to dig holes in the ground and to bury the seed and cover it up with soil again. Finally, a thresher is used to separate grains from the crop itself[5].

Rice is China's most important crop. It is mainly grown in the southern provinces, where some farms have the ability to provide 2-4 harvests a year because of their topography and climate. During the winter, many farmers in Xizhou usually plant garlic. Families own different plots of land which is measured in mu (800 square yards). Each family owns an average of about one mu of land[5].

As a result of topographic and climatic features, the area suitable for cultivation is small: only about 10 percent is unirrigated and the remainder is divided between paddy fields and irrigated areas. Also, soil conditions vary around the region, and environmental problems like floods, droughts, and erosion pose threats to many farmlands[5].

The topography of Yunnan consists of many hills and small mountains, so farmers have to consider which areas are best for farming and suitable for their crops. There are many factors that contribute to the decision of where the farmer should grow his or her crops. It can include soil quality, sun and water exposure, and pest prevention[7].

In Yunnan, most farmers tend to stay away from using pesticide, because their crops are much healthier without it. In different parts of the Yunnan province, an average of 25% of crops rot before they are sold[7].

In Yunnan, many farmers choose the method of mixed cultivation, which is a type of agriculture that involves planting two or more plants in the same field, interdigitating them to grow together. In general, mixed cultivation can bring many benefits to farmers and crops. Planting multiple plants at once saves space since crops in the same field may ripen at different seasons. Other documented benefits of mixed cultivation include the balance of input and outgo of soil nutrients, suppression of weeds and insect pests, resistance of extreme climates, suppression to plant disease, increase in overall productivity, and management of scarce resources (land)[8].

Since different crops have different requirements, farmers must pay a lot of attention to planting crops into the right location to meet their needs. If a crop is planted in conditions that are not suitable, it probably will not grow to its full potential and might even die[7].

Most Yunnan Farmers follow a basic process when they plant their crop.

  1. Dig a hole into the soil, where the positioning will benefit the plant.
  2. Position and plant the seed into the soil
  3. Allow the crop to grow, and tend to it as needed.
  4. Harvest the crop using different tools. 
  5. Sell, store, or use the crop

Recently in Xizhou, environmental protection plans have had a large effect on farmers in the area. The government wanted to protect Lake Erhai from the harmful agricultural runoff from the farmland, so recently in January 2017, they placed a ban on cultivating land within a specific area around the lake (27,000 mu). Many farmers have been affected by regulation[9]. Excessive use of chemical fertilizers from surrounding garlic farms have been found to be the main contributor to the damage done to Lake Erhai. Studies have found that the runoff accounts for at least 60% of the water's pollution[11]. Officials started to regulate livestock farmer's handling methods of cow dung and farming too close to the lake was banned[9].

Many families lost their farms because of environmental protection measures. In exchange, the government promised an annual compensation of 2,000 yuan per mu of farmland affected by the ban. Because of the compensation, some other farmers not affected by the ban became envious of the farmers who did get affected because the annual compensation is more than their annual farming income[9]. Local garlic growers use almost 200 kilograms per mu of chemical fertilizers and significant amounts of water to increase the yield of crops[11].

One of the biggest problems with Lake Erhai is the large scale algal blooms that have made an occurrence inside the water. The high nitrogen and phosphorus content in fertilizers are leading to the rapid development of the algae[11]. The blue-green algae were first sighted in 1996 and again in 2003. Recently, almost 23,000 tons of algae and other overgrowth was removed from the lake. The algae can threaten the recreational use of rivers, lakes, and seas and can lead to the death of aquatic life because they consume oxygen and block sunlight[9,10].

Garlic has high nutritional and economic value in Dali. Garlic has generated a net profit of more than 10,000 yuan per mu. But garlic's agricultural runoff is a large factor in polluting the water, so the government placed bans on garlic farms near Erhai. This brings negative effects to the garlic farmers around the area and Xizhou as a whole because many of the garlic profits have been lost[10].

Information From 3-to-5's: 

Information From Local Contacts: 

Grandma Yang: Grandma Yang is the owner of a souvenir shop outside of Yang Zhuo Ran. She farmed when she was younger and has a lot of knowledge on the types of crops they grow in Xizhou.

  • In the winter, many people plant Chang Dou (beans) so they can cook during meals for families
  • When she was younger, she would work on her family's farm and pick food for her family
  • Many government-owned plantations grow You Cai Hua so they can use it as oil, which makes a large amount of profit

Mr. Li: Mr. Li is a farmer and resident of Shen Jia Cun, he lives there with his wife and children. He has been growing crops for a long time to sell on the morning market to make profits. 

  • Grow a very large variety of crops and vegetables
  • Most farmers farm their crops to sell at the morning market so they can make a profit
  • Take a portion of their crops and vegetables to take home to feed their family
  • Some variety of plants they grow include cabbage, sesame plants, green onion, cilantro, corn, rice, parsley, bok choy, etc. 
  • Most plots of land are family owned, not very big. Around 2-3 mu of land per family
  • Farms have affected Lake Erhai negatively because of the manure that runs into the water and other runoffs from plantations
  • Because of the Erhai Protection Ban placed by the government, pieces of land have been claimed from the farmers back to the government's ownership
  • They believe that protecting Erhai is a good thing and it is what should be done except the government is doing it in the wrong way and is not being considerate of the farmers and business owners

Mrs. Li: Mrs. Li is a farmer and lives in Shen Jia Cun with her grandchildren. She has farmed for a profit for her whole life and she has had her land reclaimed by the government before.

  • She has been growing her own crops all her life
  • There is a very large variety of crops that people grow in Shen Jiang Cun 
  • Most people grow their own crops so that they can sell on the market. It is their way of making an income
  • Because they have grandchildren, they must ensure that they have a steady source of income
  • The government has begun to take her land, and she believes that it is not the right way to solve the Erhai problem

Mrs. Li: Mrs. Li is a resident of Shen Jia Cun and she harvests crops from her land so that she can sell on the market

  • She let me work with her and we harvested some green onions together
  • The life of a farmer is not easy work and there is always a struggle
  • Farmers must make enough profit to provide for their family
  • At the market, farmers usually do not make much money because the price is not a lot and not many people buy their produce

Mr. Li: Mr. Li is the husband of Mrs. Li (above) and he works alongside her in their family's plot of land

  • Mr. Li also believes that the government has the right idea trying to protect Erhai, but is doing it in the wrong way
  • He understands why the government is doing what it is doing, and it does truly seem like there is no other alternative
  • The government gives an annual compensation of 1,000 RMB per mu of farmland to people who got their land reclaimed
  • Although it is the right thing to do, it is not enough money to support families and grandchildren
  • Believes that there should be more awareness regarding this issue
  • Says that for people who are too old to go and find other work, they are just "waiting to die" if they can't farm on their own land

Mrs. Gong: Mrs. Gong is a nice elderly lady who lives in Chen Dong

  • Mrs. Gong farms her own crops on land that she doesn't own. She said that if other families don't want to use the land, then it is ok for other people to use it for their own purposes
  • Many local farmers in Chen Dong are very kind people; Mrs. Gong offered to pull out a radish so she could cut it up for me to eat
  • Most of the land around Xizhou and Chen Dong is government owned, so they can harvest more profitable crops such as the canola flowers that they're growing now
  • The harvest of the canola flower pods will be taking place very soon, and the government will be taking all the crops back

Mrs. Li: Mrs. Li is a farmer who allowed me to work with her in her land in Shen Jiang Cun

  • Mrs. Li let me help her set the radish plants in place so that she could sell them in 2 months
  • She says life as a farmer is not easy
  • Every day, they make less than 100 RMB
  • Mrs. Li has two children, one 17 and the other 24
  • Farmers wake up at around 4-5 in the morning in order to sell their crops on the morning market
  • They work from the crack of dawn all the way to the evening in order to support their family
  • Most farmers in Shen Jiang Cun go to the Xizhou morning market to sell their crops 

Answers to Previous Questions (from Phase 1):

1. Has farming been implemented in the daily lives of Xizhou residents?

In Xizhou, I have noticed that farming has taken a backstep because of government policies and other industries such as tourism. Most of the farming that you see is owned and controlled by the government to plant cash crops such as the canola flowers that they are currently growing. Some families do grow their own little gardens to provide some food for their families, but it isn't as relevant in Xizhou as it is in neighboring villages. 

2. Is farming a hard way to make money in Xizhou? Are there any challenges? 

Farming is an extremely tough and challenging occupation here in Xizhou. Many farmers work all the way from day to night, and they wake up as early as 4 AM in the morning to make sure that they can sell their crops at the market. They make less than 100 RMB every day, and it is barely enough to get by and support their children and grandchildren. Because of the Lake Erhai Protection Policy, the government has begun to take land from farmers near Erhai. This means that many of them lose their crops and the only way to make income. 

3. Is there a process for farming crops in Xizhou?

Most farmers will split the land that they own into little sections categorized by the crop, which is a system called mixed cultivation. They then plant the seeds into the ground and tend to it throughout the year until it is ready for harvesting. The process of farming requires a lot of steady hard work, and perseverance. 

4. Do farmers repeat consistent farming rituals every year? If so, how do they keep track of everything?

Farmers base their crop planting on the season and time of year. Different crops have different times of year when they should be planted and specific times of year when they are ready to be harvested. Plants always vary in how long it takes for them to grow, so farmers need to remember a lot of information when they are farming crops. They create schedules for themselves so that they know what crop to plant, when, and where. 

5. Are there any changes in the weather, and how do farmers adapt to them?

The weather actually does not fluctuate too extremely during the year. Even if the weather does change, the farmer does not need to really adapt his or her farm because the crops they plant throughout the year are meant to fit the weather and temperature that it grows in, so farmers prepare beforehand to make sure that the crop and the weather cooperate. 

6. Which crops do farmers enjoy growing the most and why?

Farmers do not really stop and take time to enjoy what they are doing and think about which crop they enjoy growing the most because they do it to put money and food onto the table. They usually just work and work and don't really stop to put their thoughts into it. 

7. Do farmers use different tools when they work in the fields?

Farmers do use many tools when they go through the process of planting crops in their field. In the earlier processes of planting crops, they usually just do it by hand, But when the crop is ready to harvest, they use an assortment of different tools and knives to harvest it and to prepare it for selling.

8. Has the Lake Erhai protection ban had an effect on farmers and their farms?

The protection policy of Lake Erhai has had a very large effect on farms that are too near to the lake. The government is scared that the agricultural runoff is polluting the water of Erhai, so they reclaimed all the land that the farmers own. This had a negative impact on them because farming and selling crops are the only way for them to make an income, and most of the farmers are too old to go out and find other jobs and ways to make money. Although the government gives an annual compensation of 1000 RMB per mu of the land the farmer's own, it is not enough to support the farmer's children and life. For farmers who don't farm near Erhai, they aren't really affected by the policy. Many farmers believe that the protection ban is a good thing, but the government is doing in the wrong way. 

9. Is this the first time something of that sort has happened before?

This is not the first time the government has stepped in the intervene in farmer's daily lifestyles. A while ago, they placed a ban on garlic farming because it brought negative effects on the soil of the land. The government usually has the power to do what they deem is right, and many farmers think that they need to be more considerate of their needs.

10. What do farmers think about the future of farming in Xizhou?

In recent years, tourism has increased largely in Xizhou. It led to very strong tourism industry, and in turn, led to a decrease in the farming industry. That is the main reason why most farmers are 45 years of age or older. In the future, the tourism industry will most likely continue to grow stronger and stronger, which will continue to lead to a decrease in farming. 

I am now coming close to my final product for my project. I am ready to continue onto Phase 4 because I believe that I have enough information on my topic of farming from conversations and research. 



1. "Yunnan." Britannica School, Encyclopedia Britannica, 3 Dec. 2018. Accessed 17 Jan. 2019.
2. "Yunnan Province." World Book Student, World Book, 2019, Accessed 18 Jan.. 2019.
3. Horton, Chris. "Getting Away: Xizhou." GoKunming, 14 Sept. 2011,
4. Shannon A (Alumni-N): Accessed 24 Jan. 2019.
5. Isaac X (Alumni-J): Accessed 24 Jan. 2019.
6. Mcknight, Brian E., and Benjamin Elman. "China." Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 22 Jan. 2019,
7. Yuval K. (Alumni-H): Accessed 27 Jan. 2019.
8. Hirst, K. Kris. "Mixed Cropping: The Opposite of Monocultural Agriculture." Thoughtco. Dotdash,
9. Sixth Tone. "Lake Protection Plan a Raw Deal for Dali Garlic Farmers." Sixth Tone, 6 July 2017, 
10. "Caught in a Dilemma: How Can Sustainable Agriculture Save Lake Erhai and Address Poverty?" Paulson Institute, 31 Jan. 2018,
11. "Garlic Village Experiments with Eco-Farming." China Dialogue,
12. Mrs. Yang. Personal interview conducted by Alan Z., March 19, 2019
13. Mr. Li. Personal interview conducted by Alan Z., March 20 2019
14. Mrs. Li. Personal interview conducted by Alan Z., March 21 2019
15. Mrs. Li. Personal interview conducted by Alan Z., March 25 2019
16. Mr Li. Personal interview conducted by Alan Z., March 25 2019
17. Mrs. Gong. Personal interview conducted by Alan Z., March 26 2019
18. Mrs. Li. Personal interview conducted by Alan Z., March 26 2019




Nuances of Farming

Alan, it's very interesting to see how an environmental policy, which on the face of it, I would support, has so many far-reaching consequences. It is very difficult to legislate environmental protection policies in a way that everyone feels is fair. That is one of the major hurdles we need to face as a society if we are to deal with climate change in an efficient way. Would you say the disagreement between the farmers affected by the Lake Erhai policy and those who were not has been resolved or is it still ongoing?

My name is Alan Z, and I am a 13-year-old eighth grader in SAS Puxi. I was born in the US, and right now I live in Shanghai. I am so happy that I got to be a part of the Microcampus program. I was in Xizhou for 4 weeks, and I am really grateful for everyone who helped me throughout my journey.