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How grasslands turn to desert?




Inner Mongolia TV

Transcribed and Translated by SMHRIC

New York City

June 24, 2004


click here for the original video

A dispute between villagers and the Banner Government over the renting of farmlands has continued for several years in Bayan-Ulaan Gachaa, Bayan-Ulaan Sum, Zalaid Banner, Hingaan League of eastern Inner Mongolia. This spring, villagers again tried to ask for an explanation from the Banner Government. The main concern is why the Banner Government took over the Sum’s grazing land and rented it to outsiders for cultivation? In Zalaid Banner Bayan-Ulaan Sum’s hospital, we met with He-Hada, He-Jinggang, Sun Quangang and Chen Long, four ethnic Mongolian farmers from Bayan-Ulaan Gachaa’s Yao-Ulaan Village. They were receiving intravenous fluid therapy. Last May, they were charged with the crime of “sabotaging production and management” and sentenced to 1 year in jail by the Zalaid Banner People’s Court for making a claim to their grazing land. They have been released recently after completing their jail term. Sun Quangang and Hada told us about the land dispute going on in Yao-Ulaan Village last May.

Sun Quangang: On May 7, 2003, about ten people in a couple of vehicles appeared on the Agricultural Bank’s cultivated land located to the west of our village and started plowing. All of the villagers came to them and tried to stop them from cultivating our grazing land.

Hada: Because this is Yao-Ulaan Village’s land! We didn’t agree (with the government) to rent this land to outsiders.

Sun Quangang: On May 14, at midnight to 3:00 am, 15 police vehicles came to our village. I was the first to be arrested. We did not know they were the police.

Home to 75 households with a population of 4,000, Yao-Ulaan Village is one of the five villages in Bayan-Ulaan Gachaa. According to villagers, as a partially agricultural and partially grazing land area, Yao-Ulaan Village originally had nearly 3,000 mu (approximately 200 hectares) farmland and more than 10,000 mu (approximately 667 hectares) grazing land . However, since 1996, the collective’s grazing lands have continually been cultivated by outsiders. May 2003, Zalaid Banner’s State Land Resource Bureau and Bayan-Ulaan Sum People’s Government rented Yao-Ulaan Village’s 3,000 mu (approximately 200 hectares land which was formerly contracted by Zalaid Banner Agricultural Bank) to several outsiders. Villagers disapproved and planted their own crops to stop the outsiders’ planting. As a result, He-Hada and others considered to be the leaders, were arrested. Zalaid Banner People’s Court charged Hada and three others of the crime of “sabotaging production and management” and sentenced them to 1 year in jail. The four have never regretted their actions despite the 1-year jail sentence. They are worried about the future of their village.

Sun Quangang: We have lost our grazing lands. We are not worried about our generation, we are worried about our future generations. How they will make a living here?

Our country (China)’s grassland law has provisions to prohibit grassland from being cultivated. However, why have the grazing lands of Yao-Ulaan Village been continually cultivated since 1996? Our country (China)’s Land Management Act Provision No.15 clearly indicates that if individuals or units from outside of the collective economic organization want to contract and manage the farmers’ collective’s land, they must obtain an agreement from at least two thirds of the village committee members or village representatives and the approval from the Banner Government. Did the local government obtain any agreements from the village committee or village representatives when they rented Yao-Ulaan Village’s 3,000 mu (approximately 200 hectares) land to outsiders? With numerous doubts we came to Yao-Ulaan Village.

Correspondent: Are you a village representative?

Village Representative 1: Yes, I am.

Correspondent: When contracting the village’s land to outsiders, did they consult with the village representatives? Did the villagers sign on the agreement?

Village Representative 1: No. They never consulted with us.

Village Representative 2: When contracting the land, the Gachaa Government says seizing our land and selling it to outsiders are protected by the law because outsiders will cultivate the land scientifically. We must keep quiet even if it is unjust because they threaten us with the law.

Villagers told us that Zalaid Banner Agricultural Bank came to Yao-Ulaan Village in 1996 and cultivated 5,000 mu (approximately 335 hectares) of the collective’s grazing land. At that time, villagers tried to stop them, but failed. The Agricultural Bank released the 5,000 mu land after cultivating it for three years. In 2003, Zalaid Banner State Land Resource Bureau and Bayan-Ulaan Sum People’s Government again rented 3,000 mu of  this land to several outsiders. As a result, a land dispute arose because the villagers did not agree. So, what is the Bayan-Ulaan Sum People’s Government’s position on this after renting the land to outsiders without the villagers’ agreement?

Correspondent: As an official who has grappled with the problem, tell us what exactly happened during the 2003 land dispute?

Zalaid Banner Bayan-Ulaan Sum Party Secretary Qin Feng-shan: This should be state- owned land and the government has the right to do whatever it wants with this land. However, a few people, not that significant percentage of the people, have incited the mass to grab the land and attempt to destroy it. Therefore, our judicial department settled the problem in this manner.

Correspondent: Why are there state owned lands and collective lands co-existing in an inconsistent manner within the same collective unit such as our Sum or Gachaa?

Qin Feng-shan:  In regard to this issue, I arrived here in 1996, and I am not aware of the actual situation of how the land was divided. Anyway, when I came here, here was the state owned land for investors from outside and there was the collective land for the villagers to grow their crops. I don’t know how they partitioned off these lands.

Party Secretary Qin Feng-shan says there was no need to consult with the villagers when renting this 3,000 mu land which was once cultivated by the Zalaid Banner Agricultural Bank to outsiders in 2003 since it was state owned land. However, the villagers insist that this definitely belongs to the collective’s grazing lands. Both sides mentioned 1996. What event happened in 1996? In order to get to the truth, we went to Zalaid Banner State Land Resource Bureau.

Zalaid Banner State Land Resource Bureau vice president Jia Yu-na: I heard that that is state-owned land, and there should not be any dispute. At that time, Zalaid Banner Government, in accordance with the fact that our Banner was relatively rich in “cultivable reserve wasteland” resource, adopted several policies that encourage outsiders to invest money to make use of these “cultivable wastelands”.

Correspondent: So, does it mean that all cultivated lands have always been state-owned lands since that time to now?

Jia Yu-na: Yes, cultivated are “cultivable wasteland” resources, in other words, those were “cultivable reserve wasteland” resources.

Correspondent: Does it mean the land in dispute was not a collective land resource at that time?

Jia Yu-na: No, that was not a collective land.

Zalaid Banner State Land Resource Bureau officials told us that Yao-Ulaan Village’s 3,000 mu land that was abandoned after a period of cultivation by the Agricultural Bank should belong to state owned land, because in 1996 an investor who was not from the Agricultural Bank cultivated the state owned “cultivable reserve wasteland”. Since then, the so called “Zalaid Banner Government Regulation of Year 1996, No.42 Document” has been set into effect. The main purpose of this document is to encourage investors from outside to open up the “cultivable reserve wastelands” within the border of Zalaid Banner to grow crops and plants. Investors are entitled to enjoy the benefits of a preferential policy in which the investor will be exempted from agricultural taxes for 2 of 3 years. Under the terms of this policy, the so-called “cultivable wastelands” in not only Yao-Ulaan Village but also many other places in Zalaid Banner have been completely cultivated.

Correspondent: I am here now on the territory of Yao-Ulaan Village, Bayan-Ulaan Gachaa, Bayan-Ulaan Sum, Zalaid Banner. According to the village elders, here were their grassy grazing lands all over the plains and mountains where grasses were as high as these grasses in front of me now. Unfortunately, now grasslands like this almost have disappeared everywhere and the cultivated land behind me is no longer the collective’s grazing land. It has already become a type of state owned land. Neighboring Zuun Uul is also another village of the five in Bayan-Ulaan Gachaa. Within the border of Zuun Uul Village only, Zalaid Banner State Taxation Bureau has cultivated 7,000 mu (approximately 470 hectares) in 1996 and an investor named Liu Wen-fu contracted 1,000 mu. The same land dispute occurred in Zuun-Uul Village in 2003 as well. Recently, another conflict between villagers and contractors broke out in this village. The main reason for these conflicts is that the contractors’ cultivated lands or so-called state owned lands have aggressively expanded while the villagers’ grasslands have rapidly shrunk.

Correspondent: Where are the newly cultivated lands?

Villagers 1: There, right there, this side of the whole mountain. One-third was previously cultivated and two-thirds is newly cultivated.

Correspondent: Was the newly cultivated land previously grazing lands?

Villager 1: Yes, it had been grazing land, our Zuun-Uul’s collective grazing land for 70 years.

Villager 2: Every year, outsiders come here to cultivate our grasslands, and every spring and fall, they turn over the soil with tractors. Look, they have turned over the land almost right up to our door, right up to our village’s residential area. That hilltop was a natural border, and there was no land cultivated on the right side of the hill before. It is really hard for us to make a living now.

Villager 3: In 1996, investors cultivated our land. We didn’t agree to allow them to cultivate our land every year.

Zuun-Uul and Yao-Ulaan are Villages or “Small Brigades” of Bayan-Ulaan Gachaa. It is hard for villagers to know how many mu lands have already been cultivated in Bayan-Ulaan Gachaa. The Banner State Land Resource Bureau and Sum Government say Bayan-Ulaan Sum has only 20,000 mu (approximately 1,340 hectares) cultivated land. However, Xie Qi-jin, who had worked as the Party Secretary of Bayan-Ulaan Gachaa for 30 years, says in Bayan-Ulaan Gachaa alone, 50,000 mu (approximately 3,350 hectares) lands have been cultivated, and all these lands were grasslands originally.

Xie Qi-jin: This land (in dispute) belonged to the village’s grazing lands at that time.

Correspondent: So, when did this land turn to the so-called state owned land?

Xie Qi-jin: State owned land came to exist in 1996 when the government seized lands and turned them into state property.

Even now, the dispute over whether the 1996 cultivated land is grassland or state owned “cultivable reserve wasteland” continues in Zalaid Banner. During our live broadcast, we saw the state owned lands and grazing lands are interwoven together here. We really wanted to see what is “cultivable reserve wasteland” and figure out how it differs from grassland. We know that there are some terms such as farmland and wasteland etc. in our country (China)’s land categorization. So which category does this so-called “cultivable reserve wasteland” belong to?

Correspondent: What is the difference between the concepts of grassland and “cultivable reserve wasteland”?

Jia Yu-na: In accordance with our “cultivable reserve wasteland” evaluation, there must be a basic requirement, and we conducted many evaluations according to this requirement. As I said just know we have many criteria. In terms of grasslands, these management rights should belong to the Grassland Management Authorities.

Correspondent: What is “cultivable reserve wasteland”?

Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region State Land Resource Bureau Law & Regulation Department assistant director Ji Jian-qing: I have confirmed all relevant laws and regulations, and so far we don’t have this concept yet. I don’t know what is this so-called “cultivable reserve wasteland”.

Correspondent: So, is there a term called “wasteland”?

Ji Jian-qiang: In our land management laws, it is called “useless wasteland”. Useless wasteland or wasteland is useless or uncultivable. It has no other use at all. Usually, wasteland and its surrounding areas should have very little grasses or no grasses at all.

Chinese Agricultural Academy Grassland Research Department assistant director Yan Zhi-dian: This must be a distortion of the concept because grassland is grassland. However, if they have already cultivated or want to cultivate grassland, they will find tons of reasons to justify their cultivation. Zalaid Banner grassland is typical northwestern grassland and in the past it was excellent grazing land.

Yan Zhi-dian, a researcher at the Chinese Agricultural Academy Grassland Research Department, had participated in conducting the general survey of grasslands in Hingaan League’s Zalaid Banner at that time. He also told us that recent successive years’ severe droughts in Hingaan League are most likely a consequence of the large scale of cultivations.

Yan Zhi-dian: This kind of cultivation might bring some short term benefit but ultimately, it will not only bring disaster to our overall ecosystem but also cut off the life-line of our generations to come.

Village representative 2:  At that time, the grasslands were excellent even if this place was partially agricultural and partially grazing area. There was not much cultivated land around here, and no 3 to 5 years’ severe droughts like today. Longest drought at that time was a year or half.

According to Zalaid Banner State Land Resource Bureau, the Banner has cultivated  98,000 mu (approximately 6,670 hectares) in total of grasslands since 1996. The renters are required to pay only 30 yuan (approximately 3.50 US dollars) per mu (0.067 hectare) per year. Thirty percent of this money becomes the Banner Government income and seventy percent goes to the Sum Government. Based on this calculation, Zalaid Banner Government and Sum Governments that provided lands for cultivation have earned at least 23 million yuan (approximately 3 million US dollars) from land contract business. This means the governments have made a considerable amount of money. However, the question is, has the living standard of the local people also improved accordingly?

Villager 4: Not a single penny is for the local people. All the money went into government officials’ pockets.

Villager 5: That is true, local people’s life is really miserable.

Yao-Ulaan Village has 75 households, but now the whole village has only less than 5,000 mu grazing land. Many households have sold all of their livestock due to the lack of grazing lands. The village’s only elementary school remains in disrepair since its collapse 4 years ago because of the desperate poverty. Twelve year old boy Bao-shun dropped out from school a long time ago and now his family has only one cow. Bao-shun’s daily job is to take care of his family’s only cow.

In order to rent the grasslands for cultivation, the government has made up the “cultivable wasteland” term, a term that does not exist in land resource vocabulary. Under the guise of this term, they have nearly turned over the entire soil of the virgin grasslands in this Banner. Day after day, the cultivated land has gradually been turning to desert. The fake wasteland now has become real wasteland. The desert is expanding and drought is on a rampage, and if one wants to recover the ecosystem it could take at least two to three hundred years. The contractors and the officials who contracted the land have already gone, but the desert is left forever to the local people. It is extremely distressing that similar cases are still happening in our region (Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region)’s eastern grassland and grassland cultivation is still out of control. The once beautiful grasslands have already lost their beauty forever.



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