Publication Name

Water stories

Grapes from France to the upper Mekong valley in China

Haiya Zhang, ICIMOD

Ci Zhong, a Tibetan-Naxi village nestled in the upper Mekong valley, is renowned for its Catholic Church built by French missionaries in 1914. Along with religion, the French also brought the first grape vine to the valley. Ci Zhong locals inherited the techniques of vineyard cultivation and wine making from the French and do not use synthetic fertilizers or pesticides in their fields. Today, they are still growing the same variety, Rose Honey, brought by the French a century ago. This grape variety has already died out in the rest of the world due to a disease that wiped out almost all grape plantations in Europe at the time. Today, about 160 kilometres north along the valley, the Naxi people of Bamei village have also starting cultivating grapes – Cabernet Sauvignon.

Center (AIRC), a research centre based out of Yunnan University, is conducting a household survey under its food security component. In Bamei village, situated by the Mekong river at 2,500 metres above sea level, the villagers started grape cultivation in 2009. Grape cultivation was part of a poverty-alleviation programme supported by the Chinese government. Based on a feasibility study, wherein experts deduced that the arid climate in Bamei was favourable for grape and walnut cultivation. Since then, more experts have

arrived with grape vines, concrete posts and wires, teaching the farmers how to start and maintain vineyards. All materials and technical costs are paid for by the government. Two years into the programme, the vineyards have yielded grapes and, during the harvest season, government-owned companies from nearby towns buy grapes by the truckload. This particular case presents vineyards as an effective adaptation strategy for mountain farmers in arid zones. A typical vineyard requires less water than traditional highland barley, maize or wheat, and the income from grapes is higher per hectare. The highest income per mu (0.07 hectares) of grapes was about 6,800 RMB (1,097 USD) in Bamei. observed a significant increase in income, but also a decrease in available fodder for their stall- fed animals. Like many other villagers, Tsering now grows wheat for fodder in between the grape trellises. Contrary to the grape variety grown in Ci Zhong, the Cabernet Sauvignon grape, requires synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Additionally, Tsering says that the soil is quite tough and difficult to till. The HICAP-supported research team is looking into the relationship between soil productivity and grape cultivation, as well as drivers of change and impacts on food security along the upper Mekong river. Tsering Tsomu, an indigenous Naxi woman in Bamei, recalls the time when locals relied on highland crops and stall-fed animals. She says that, after changing to grape cultivation, the villagers

As part of the Himalayan Climate Change Adaptation Programme (HICAP), the Asian International River

The Rose Honey grape vineyards surrounding Ci Zhong Church

Tsering Tsomu and her grape plantation


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