slowly waking up…

July 12th, 2007

I don’t know how, but I fell out of the habit of checking the China Development Brief regularly, which is a shame because it’s got lots of great stuff. Anyway, somehow the news that China Development Brief is in a spot of bother with the authorities got me thinking, hey, didn’t I have that bookmarked somewhere? And so I looked it up, and I’m glad I did, because they’ve got a great article on the degredation of China’s grasslands. Some academics, it would seem, have been casting doubt on government policies towards the grasslands and are arguing for a more people- and culture-centred approach to preserving the grasslands.

According to Wang Xiaoyi (王晓毅), a CASS scholar organising the Kunming conference, after years of huge investments to tackle desertification in Inner Mongolia—which is home to one of the world’s largest grasslands areas and most complicated ecosystems—there is no sign of degradation coming to an end or even slowing.

Surveys show that more than 90% of China’s 400 million hectares of grassland suffer from various degrees of degradation. In the past two decades, only 10% of desertified land has been treated. Meanwhile, two million hectares of rangeland turns into desert each year.

And then:

More and more researchers are questioning the policy, which started in the 1980s, of dividing Inner Mongolia’s grasslands into smaller plots and allocating them to individual families. Policy-makers have applied agricultural logic to pastoral areas, failing to recognise key differences in the management of farmland and rangeland.

“This fundamentally changed the nature of people’s lives on the grasslands, forcing herders to become settlers and farmers and leading to the erosion of grassland culture,� says Wang.

“Chances are the original way of living and production had their value and rationale in maintaining a more sustainable ecosystem that is destroyed by the agriculturalisation and industrialisation of the grassland,� he suggests.

Wah! Who’d’ve thunk it! The nomads had adapted their lifestyles to suit their environment, and then these people from the agricultural cultures south of the Great Wall (reminds me of what I’ve spent the last three days reading and writing about), who of course knew better, came and buggered it up with their lifestyles and techniques ill-suited to the grasslands environment.

Well, fortunately nobody is arguing for a full-on return to the Genghis Khan horse- and camelback nomadic, raiding and pillaging the other side of the Wall when the mood takes you, the occasional conquest and empire lifestyle. Nor even just the regular nomadic herding. But they are arguing for an updated, modernised adaptation of the old practices. Bringing the old, suited to the grasslands lifestyle into the modern age:

She [Hao Bing] suggests that although a return to nomadic lifestyle is not practical, new technologies such as solar energy and Internet might give herders a better chance of reshaping their traditions.


In the fields, some herders have merged their fragmented pasture and graze their animals together, a semi-nomadic way of herding in the new era. Co-operatives have also been established among herders.

“We are studying these new approaches, which are more productive and environment-friendly. Cooperatives could be a solution, which will benefit the herders while minimise the impact on the environment,� she [Hu Jingping] says.

And even involving the herders themselves in the process:

“We want to stress the development impact on people and to analyse government policies and systems from a cultural perspective. We will also pay more attention to herders’ opinions and empower them,� says Hao Bing (�冰), coordinator of the Network.

Sounds like the right idea.

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