Photo Essays | Society | East Asia

The Farming Palettes of Yunnan

The farming area of Dongchuan offers some stunning, multicolor vistas.

By Sugato Mukherjee for
The Farming Palettes of Yunnan

An elderly farmer wearing a sheepskin coat relaxes near his farm.

The Farming Palettes of Yunnan

Agriculture in the multicoloured fields of Dongchuan county still employs horse drawn carts.

The Farming Palettes of Yunnan

Buckwheat, potato and barley are the major crops grown in the rust coloured valley.

The Farming Palettes of Yunnan

The toil is relentless in a land that is inherently inhospitable for farming.

The Farming Palettes of Yunnan

Farmers at work in the village of Bei He Cun in Dongchuan.

The Farming Palettes of Yunnan

A Dongchuan farmer returns home with his horse.

The Farming Palettes of Yunnan

Of late, transport and communication systems have been built, making life a little easier for the farmers.

The Farming Palettes of Yunnan

Wind turbines in Dongchuan are used to generate power, helping to sustain the fragile ecosystem.

The Farming Palettes of Yunnan

Traditional haystacks are used to stock harvested crops.

The Farming Palettes of Yunnan

The quiltwork of the terraced fields. The soil is rich in metallic minerals like alumina and iron, creating an unusual colour palette.

The Farming Palettes of Yunnan

The small hamlets that dot the Dongchuan landscape seamlessly merge into the colors of the surrounding landscape.

The Farming Palettes of Yunnan

The ever changing light creates a palette with random brushstrokes over the swathes of land.

Located in the northeast of Kunming, Yunnan province, southwest China, Dongchuan is a rural area in the Wumeng mountains. Dongchuan, which  means “palette,” is a valley of colors. Spanning 50 kilometers around the village of Huashitou in Xintian township, about 2400 meters above sea level, are rolling mountains where fiery red soil with a variety of crops and ever changing light could easily be mistaken as a Van Gogh. The iron oxide in the soil has developed an extraordinarily reddish soil. The cultivation of golden wheat, emerald barley, white potato flowers and pink buckwheat produces a magnificent landscape, a stunning mix of geometric designs and colors.

Though Dongchuan is often referred to as the color palette of the gods, it is actually a wonderful creation of the farmers. Stones in the soil prevent croplands from retaining water. So farmers plant drought-resistant crops. The plots allotted to each family are scattered across the land – while one plants potatoes, another cultivates wheat. This random allotment lends a stunning, multicolor beauty to the land. The farmers sustain the fragile ecosystem by opting for traditional means of power generation with wind turbines that dot the undulating landscape of Dongchuan. And to make the most of a land that is hardly ideal for farming, the people of Dongchuna have resorted to plasticulture – an innovative method of boosting the land’s productivity in which plastic tunnels are painstakingly created over the croplands to retain moisture, control temperature, and keep out weeds and insects.