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Nature-based solutions to climate change: a woman story from Yunnan, SW China

@fsn Zhang Xiuyun- the women farmer breeder


Zhang Xiuyun, a women farmer breeder, was born in 1972 in a farming family in a small village in the UNISCO 3 paralyzed rivers area, in SW Yunnan Province neighboring Tibet and Sichuan provinces. She grow up on her farm in the Jinsha (up-stream of Yangzi) riverside and later married into another farming family in the stone village nearby. She has two sons, the older one has started his own business, and the younger one is in the high school. She is a popular farmer breeder in the neighboring villages, everyone calls her "`maize mama". ​As she selected and improved more than 30 maize varieties and gave them own names like Xiuyuan No 1, Xiuyuan No 2 and etc. Xiuyun has conserved and improved a large number of crops with a great interest and commitment for years. In doing so, she really hopes to protect the rich biodiversity in the beautiful bio-culture mountain landscape, where she grew up and adapting to all changes.

Connecting the mountain

The 3 paralyzed rivers mountainous area of ​​Northwestern Yunnan, located between the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau, is the home to a vast diversity of landscapes, ecosystems, species and cultures. The Stone Village, which is hidden in the valley of the Jinsha River, is located here, in the southwestern part of China.

In stone village, the indigional Naxi people who settled along the dry and hot valley of the Jinsha River created a mountain farming system that is extremely resilient and has lasted for thousands of years. Facing great climate changes and socio-economic upheaval, a group of women, led by Xiuyuan, have been using the native farming wisdom and coping for all changes for sustainable livelihood in harmony with the land and natural resources they heavily depend on.

Over the past 20 years, Stone Village has experienced increasing loss of agrobiodiversity and related traditional cultures. Due to the rapid economic development and promotion of industrial agriculture, the local crop and farming structure have been changed. Rice planting has been replaced by more corn planting. Meanwhile, farmers’ traditional seed system, which support farmers to keep their own seed or exchange seed with neighbouring farmers every farming season, is in degradation. More and more farmers have to purchase limited modern varieties from a narrow set of seed species offered by the market. This decreased biodiversity in farming practices has made the local farming system more fragile in the face of the ever more frequent and severe droughts and delayed rainy seasons caused by climate change in this mountain areas.

@Qiubi The rich and diverse crop seeds preserved by villages in Jingsha River in Yunnan

A woman’s action

Seven years ago, Zhang Xiuyun attended the Farmers Seed Network Annual Exchange workshop in Stone Village. She was inspired by the participatory plant breeding (PPB) approach and stories shared by PPB farmers and breeders from all over China. At theworkshop, she volunteered with full excitement: ‘I am also signing up to join the PPB team and become a PPB breeder!’ This marked the start of her Participatory Plant Breeding (PPB) journey in collaboration with other farmers and communities with support from scientists to conserve and improve local seeds and agrobiodiversity and working with nature to adapt to climate changes.

Since 2014, she have selected and improved 25 local and PPB varieties and shared with farmers within the village and with other communities in SW China through FSN. She has also tried to do seed production of a few farmer preferred varieties. For example, one variety is “Guisuzhong” which is drought and logging resistant and preferred by mountain communities in Yunnan due to the increasing spring drought and summer wind. Another one is “Damaya” from stone village, which has high nourish value and local people use for baby feeding. The last but most popular one is “Guinuo 2006”, a PPB verity with very good market value and also adapting to local diversified contexts and climate changes.

@Zhang Xiuyun Logging crops Supporting for logging

Learning from nature and copying for Change

Faced with the changing climate and extreme whether over the past few years, the continuous spring drought and unexpected summer storm rain have affected sowing and the yield significantly. When facing such crises and changes, the women farmers like Zhang Xiu Yun have utilized their own wisdom and determination to work with nature copying for changes at community level. For example, forming into women PPB group for technology and information exchange and collective action in water and soil management with traditional custom lows and new tools like cell phone and internet.

@fsn Methods used to conserve diversity of seeds

Why seeds?

Everyone eats and Food is life!

This is especially true and priority concern for women in isolated mountain villages. Living in remote mountain area and bearing the brunt of climate change impacts, they have to ensure a diverse and resilient farming system that can lessen the negative impacts of environment changes and pests. Therefore the diversity of seeds and crops on and around their farm are very important for them. ‘If we loose our seed, we loose our way of living and production.’ Through the seeds they breed and plant, they link technology with traditional wisdom and integrate local ecology with their culture. They conserve their soil and water in order to continue nurture the diverse seeds they hold and continue its traditional way of farming that are in harmony with nature.

Such natured based and people centred ecological sustainable farming allows farmers to based on their own seed system and related culture and traditional knowledge and have the rights to seeds and the freedom to share those seeds within and with other communities. For farmers, seeds are not just seeds but a symbol of independence, local spirit and knowledge and provides a profound link among farmers, families and communities through generations. As Xiuyuan said, “I like seeds and care them as my baby, as little girl I saw my mom keeping and caring seeds, more seeds, more diversified farming and food and more hope!”

@Qiubi’ Custodians of Seeds



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