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Swamp buffalo keeping – an out-dated farming activity? A case study in smallholder farming systems in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan Province, PR China
Expansion of rubber tree plantations and agricultural mechanization caused a decline of swamp buffalo numbers in the Naban River National Nature Reserve (NRNNR), Yunnan Province, China. We analysed current use of buffaloes for field work and the recent development of the regional buffalo population, based on interviews with 184 farmers in 2007/2008 and discussions with 62 buffalo keepers in 2009. Three types of NRNNR farms were distinguished, differing mainly in altitude, area under rubber, and involvement in livestock husbandry. While pig based farms (PB; n=37) have abandoned buffalo keeping, 11% of the rubber based farms (RB; n=71) and 100% of the livestock-corn based farms (LB; n=76) kept buffaloes in 2008. Herd size was 2.5 +/-1.80 (n=84) buffaloes in early 2008 and 2.2 +/-1.69 (n=62) in 2009. Field work on own land was the main reason for keeping buffaloes (87.3 %), but lending work buffaloes to neighbours (79.0%) was also important. Other purposes were transport of goods (16.1%), buffalo trade (11.3%) and meat consumption (6.4%). Buffalo care required 6.2 +/-3.00 working hours daily, while annual working time of a buffalo was 294 +/-216.6 hours. The area ploughed with buffaloes remained constant during the past 10 years despite an expansion of land cropped per farm. Although further replacement of buffaloes by tractors occurs rapidly, buffaloes still provide cheap work force and buffer risks on poor NRNNR farms. Appropriate advice is needed for improved breeding management to increase the efficiency of buffalo husbandry and provide better opportunities for buffalo meat sale in the region.