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China Focus: Scholars Urge Improving Grassland Policies

Xinhua News
July 31, 2009


Serious devastation of Alshaa Grassland




   Chinese experts and scholars urged  the government to improve its pasture management policies to better  protect the interests of herders at an international anthropology  conference held here Friday.

    A group of experts on pasture management said the Chinese  government should adjust and improve some of its policies in the  pasture areas at panels on nomadic culture and development of the  16th congress of the International Union of Anthropological and  Ethnological Sciences (IUAES).

    Yang Li, economic and management professor of the Inner Mongolia  University, said that some of the unequal grassland policies have  left the herders vulnerable to land-use right violations. 

    China's reform was led by a group of villagers in the eastern  province of Anhui that secretly abandoned the collective system and  divided farmland among the households, which was at the time against  Chinese law. Later, the practice was widely promoted as the household  responsibility system across the country and triggered economic  reform.

    However, what works for farmland has not worked out so well for  grassland, Yang said, adding that distributing the grassland to  households has created many problems.

    In the 1990s, the grassland-contract area was just a figure  collected by the government, which existed only on the paper. Much  rangeland in Qinghai and Tibet was symbolically distributed on the  map to each household, but actually jointly used by herders, Yang  said.

    A survey released by the State Council Development Research  Center's Rural Economy Department shows that China has 180 million  hectares of grassland that have seriously deteriorated, at an annual  speed of two million hectares. China has nearly 400 million hectares  of grassland.

    Many herders refuse to invest in protecting the grassland even  though they are aware of the fact that their distributed grassland is  deteriorating, because others can always use their grassland, he  said.

    Statistics from the Ministry of Agriculture shows that in 2008? 10  million mu (667,000 hectares) of contracted grassland was clarified,  making the total amount of contracted-grassland area account for 74.3  percent of the total usable grassland.

    Gai Zhiyi, professor of the College of Economic Management, Inner  Mongolia Agricultural University, said that the unequal grassland use  rights in the pasturing areas have hurt the interests of herders.

    "The grassland use right of the herders is easily violated with  the current policies," Gai said. According to Chinese laws, the  resources above the grassland or underneath the grassland both belong  to the state. Once the state discovers resources under the grassland  and decides to exploit, it is almost impossible for the collective to  negotiate for their collective grassland use right, he said.

    Meanwhile, if trees are found in pasturing areas, the forestry  department can issue certificate of forest, which overrides the  certificate of grassland use right. Some herders in Hulunbeier, Inner  Mongolia, chop down the saplings they see when they are grazing on  the grassland because if the sapling grows into trees, they will lose  their grassland to the forestry department, Gai said.

    China has launched a series of projects to enhance ecological  preservation and improvement in grassland areas. These projects  include returning reclaimed land to forest, returning grazing land to  grassland, protection of natural forests, harnessing sources of  sandstorms affecting Beijing and Tianjin and conservation of soil and  water.

    Although the grassland eco-environment has improved thanks to the  various projects initiated by the government, it faces great  challenges in preventing the grassland from over-grazing,  exploitation, requisition, desertification and disasters caused by  mice and other pests, according to a report on China's grassland  released by the Ministry of Agriculture in April this year.

    Some of these projects are still under debate, said Chen Xiangjun,  from the anthropology department of Sun Yat-Sen University.

    Take the ecological resettlement project for example, which  resettles herders from the grassland to prevent the grassland from  deterioration. But agriculture is different from stockbreeding and  the herders know nothing about farming, Chen said. A project in the  Alxa area in Inner Mongolia ended up with herders going back to  grazing on the grassland, he said.

    Some of the officials in pasturing areas do not understand the  pastoral culture and make rash policies using simplistic rationale to  deal with very complex problems, said Prof. Gai.

    They need big projects as their political achievements on their  resume so they can climb higher in the political ladder, that is why  they do not care too much about the long-term interests of the  herders as well as the grassland, he said.

    Gai suggests the policy makers consult experts from different  fields, economics, religion, ethnic studies, pastoral culture as well  as local herders, who conduct long-time research in the area to make  policies concerning the pasturing areas. 




From Yeke-juu League to Ordos Municipality: settler colonialism and alter/native urbanization in Inner Mongolia

Close to Eden (Urga): France, Soviet Union, directed by Nikita Mikhilkov

Beyond Great WallsBeyond Great Walls: Environment, Identity, and Development on the Chinese Grasslands of Inner Mongolia

The Mongols at China's EdgeThe Mongols at China's Edge: History and the Politics of National Unity

China's Pastoral RegionChina's Pastoral Region: Sheep and Wool, Minority Nationalities, Rangeland Degradation and Sustainable Development

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 China: A Report of the Committee on Scholarly Communication With the People's Republic of China

The Ordos Plateau of ChinaThe Ordos Plateau of China: An Endangered Environment (Unu Studies on Critical Environmental Regions)

Grasslands and Grassland Science in Northern China

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