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China's largest Grassland starts an "ecological" revolution on the mode of production

Chinese official news --- Xinhua Network Inner Mongolia Channel reports

13 June, 2002

Cai Hailiang, Asgaan

Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region recently introduced an important move to transform the mode of production and management to develop ecological animal husbandry.

"This signifies that the revolution of the mode of production and management of animal husbandry has started," says Xia Ri, a Vice Chairman of the Political Consultative Conference of IMAR, as well as a Mongolian animal husbandry expert. "The ongoing reform, however, is different than the previous ones, as its starting point is to recover and protect the grassland ecology, and to develop a highly beneficial modern animal husbandry, rather than to seek the increase of the farming scale."

The grassland which consists of 88 million hectares of natural grass fields, is the largest in China. Another important move was launched here earlier in the 1980s - contracted management of grassland and privatization of herds. The move broke the "big rice bowl" system of management and production in pastoral areas, and therefore enjoys the same historical significance as "the output-related system of contracted responsibilities" that has been practiced in the agricultural areas of China since.

However, the enthusiasm of production that was aroused by the previous reform popularized all over the pastoral areas of China, wasn't effectively controlled. This caused the number of livestock to be doubled to 60 million over the last 20 years. Compared to its current condition, the grassland is  generally overloaded to twice its capacity. In addition, due to the dry climate and the lack of investment in the rehabilitation of grasslands, nearly half the natural grasslands of Inner Mongolia have already been desertified or declined. Today, animal husbandry in natural grasslands of Inner Mongolia is close to the limit of its production capacity. Because of this, plus the worsening ecology in general, the grassland is becoming China's source of sand storms.

In brief, the goal of the reform program that the Inner Mongolian government has recently publicized, is to let the livestock "change their way of life" - from the natural herding into shed-raising or semi shed-raising - and to let the herders also change their "mode of management" from the extensive management into the intensive. This will ultimately achieve the transformation of animal husbandry into a type of economy that is more quality- and benefit-based and eco-friendly, rather than simply seeking the increase of quantity and damaging the environment.

According to officials from the Inner Mongolia Committee of Development Plans, the Chinese government within this year will authorize the initiation of the Inner Mongolian project of shed-raising and prohibition of herding on the grasslands. The central government has preliminarily decided to subsidy 100 Kg of grain and 50 yuan as the construction fee for every hectare of grassland. The project will mainly be carried on in the pastoral and "half-pastoral half-agricultural" areas where the ecology has worsened. The Inner Mongolian government is planning, by the year 2005, to increase the size of no-herding and shift-herding areas to 50% of the size of usable grasslands, and, through two million hectares of grassland construction each year, to increase the production of artificial forage grass to over 50% of the actual requirement.

During the past 20 years, Inner Mongolia has tried out this method to change the "lifestyle" of herds. This was deeply welcomed by herders and farmers. Guo Ba, a farmer from Yangpo Village in Machanghao Township, Dalad Banner, Inner Mongolia, said, "since practicing the shed-raising and prohibition of herding, not only grasslands are more green than before, but also because the government supported theplantation of artificial grass and the improvement of livestock breeds, herds became stronger and sold for more money."

"To develop ecological animal husbandry is not favoring ecology over animal husbandry. The relationship between a quality- and benefit-based modern animal husbandry, and to protect the ecological environment of grasslands, always resembles the relationship between lips and teeth," says Xu Zhu, director of Grassland ResearchInstitute at the Chinese Academy of Agriculture. "The ultimate goal of developing ecological animal husbandry is to achieve the double victory for both ecology and animal husbandry."

He thinks that the animal husbandry industry that exists in Inner Mongolia has already laid a foundation for the reform. At present, Inner Mongolia's milk and cashmere products hold shares of 9% and 29% respectively in domestic markets.

Chairman of IMAR Oyunchimig reveals that henceforth the government will put forceful effort to develop and support ecological animal husbandry. A 200-million-yuan loan has already been implemented this year to support over 50 major farming and animal husbandry enterprises. By the year 2005, Inner Mongolian milk production is expected to achieve a sale of 15 billion yuan and to lead in the domestic milk production markets. The cashmere production will strive to achieve an eight-billion-yuan sale, and to hold 70% of domestic market share.

"Inner Mongolia's reforms for ecological animal husbandry has not only carried on the strong points and abandoned the weakness of traditional animal husbandry, but it also has opened up a new train of thought to develop modern animal husbandry. Therefore it would hopefully once again become the testing ground for China's grassland animal husbandry reforms," says Xu Zhu.



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Changing Inner MongoliaChanging Inner Mongolia: Pastoral Mongolian Society and the Chinese State (Oxford Studies in Social and Cultural Anthropology)

Grasslands and Grassland Science in Northern ChinaGrasslands and Grassland Science in Northern China: A Report of the Committee on Scholarly Communication With the People's Republic of China

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