Scientific research

Growing sainfoin in mountain farming – Suusamyr valley

Author: Knowledge Management in CACILM Phase II, ICARDA.

Definition of technology:

Soil fertility conservation through cultivation of sainfoin.

Brief summary of technology:

Agriculture of the Suusamyr Valley is based on animal husbandry.

During warm season, animals are kept in pastures; and farmers grow cereals (mainly barley) for laying-in of fodder for winter. As a result, cultivation of cereal monoculture has led to deterioration of soils, number of pests increased, and soil fertility reduced.

To restore soil fertility, it is proposed to introduce a crop rotation with alternation of barley and perennial grass – sainfoin. Sainfoin can grow at an altitude of 700 to 3400 m above sea level, accumulate a large biomass (up to 237-333 kg/ha), fix free nitrogen from the atmosphere by root nodule bacteria (up to 194-178 kg/ha) and improve soil structure. In addition, sainfoin is a good honey plant (providing up to 150 kg/ha of honey per season).

Duration of the proposed rotation is 5 years (1st year – fallow land, 2nd year – barley and 3rd – 5th year – sainfoin). Fallow land "rests", weeds are destroyed. During the second year the field isused for grain production, in the third year, after the grain harvesting sainfoin is sown. Farmers of the valley experienced shortage of sainfoin seeds. To solve this problem, farmer Azimzhan Ibraimov started growing sainfoin on an area of 25 ha. He had sufficient resources to keep the field from animal grazing, harvest the yield, transport and clean the seeds. Grown varieties of sainfoin (Belek), barley (Kylym) were bred in the Kyrgyz Research Institute of Agriculture.

In 2009, the UNDP/GEF project entitled: "Demonstrating Sustainable Mountain Pasture Management" bought seeds of sainfoin and covered the cost of ploughing and sowing. The project also provided training to farmers on the cultivation technology of grain and forage crops. Azimzhan Ibraimov grows and distributes seeds to farmers at a price favorable to himself, but below commercial. Other farmers began to support rotation.

Figure 1. View of the field in the second year of sainfoin production after application of the technology (photo: Abdybek Asanaliev).

Figure 2. Prior to application of the technology: before the start of crop cultivation the field was not ploughed for more than 10 years (photo: Azimzhan Ibraimov)

Location: Djayıl district, Chuy province.

Area of technology application: 24 ha.

Stage of intervention: alleviation / reduction of land degradation.

Main land use issues and the main causes of land degradation:

Lack of a unified concept of preservation of agricultural land, including protection of fertility of the arable land, lack of knowledge among farmers on proper agricultural management, poor development of extension services are responsible for reduction of soil fertility.

Main technical features of technology:

Improving soil structure, increasing organic matter, nutrients (nitrogen).

Type of land use Conservation measures

Arable land.

Growing of perennial (non-forest) crops - Вм(Cp).

Mixed land.

Agropastoralizm (cropland and grazing land) - Сп(Mp).

Agronomic measures:

A1: Vegetation / soil cover;

A3: Processing of the topsoil.


Habitat Anthropogenic environment

Average annual rainfall: 500-750 mm.

Altitude (meter above sea level): 1500-2000 m.

Landscape: hill slopes.

Slope (%): 5-16%.

Soil fertility: average.

Humus content in arable horizon: 1-3%.

Natural soil drainage/infiltration: good.

Size of land area (ha): 15-50 ha.

Landholder: farmer households.

Land ownership: lease from government, private.

Water use rights: through WUAs and organizations responsible for management of irrigation systems.

Market orientation: mixed farming (subsistence and commercial).


Impact of technology

Main advantages:

- sainfoin is a very productive crop, Rizo species develops large biomass;

- sainfoin accumulates nitrogen in soil and thus improves its fertility;

- provides additional income, as farmers harvest seeds and sell hay;

- protects the soil surface from erosion.

Main disadvantages:

- certified seeds of sainfoin are relatively expensive and so are not affordable to every farmer;

- keeping the field fallow is unprofitable for most farmers. Only wealth farmers can afford this;

- farmers need specialized knowledge to produce seeds;

- lack of an effective system of credits to implement technologies for soil and water conservation by farmers.

Acceptance/adoption of technology: There is a small upward trend of spontaneous adoption of this technology.

Reference(s): WOCAT Database. Code of the technology: T_KYR004ru.

Compiled by: Abdybek Asanaliev, Kyrgyz National Agrarian University, CACILM MSEC. Date: 14.01. 2011.

Contact: Baibek Usubaliev.

Address: room 212, 4a, Toktonalieva str., Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

Tel.: +996 (312) 566 318, E-mail: 

Name of person(s) collected this description: Tatyana Hamzina, Chief specialist on soil reclamation studies and irrigation regime. UZGIP LTD. Address: 44, Navoi str., Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

Tel.: +998 90 9945654, Email:




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