For several years Future Agricultures has worked on pastoralism within African settings. For comparison, this post looks at a case from theTibetan Plateau, where pastoralists are facing similar challenges to those investigated by our Pastoralism theme.
In the last few weeks of 2014, IDS hosted a visiting fellow, Gongbuzeren, a researcher from Tibet who himself grew up in a nomadic community. Gongbuzeren has been researching rangeland management and pastoral development in pastoral regions around Tibet since 2007, with fieldwork in the provinces of Sichuan and Qinghai. We asked him a few questions about his emerging findings.
1. The Chinese authorities recently introduced a market-based system of rangeland management in the Tibetan Plateau, which contrasts with some of the existing collective and community-based practices. Why do you think they did this, and what have they done to achieve it?
The pastoral reforms were part of a wider programme. In the late 1980s, China initiated economic reforms to move towards market-based economic development, in order to improve its gross industrial and agricultural output. In the late 1990s, China implemented the ‘Great West Development’ programme. This tried to speed up economic growth through marketisation and modernisation in the west – including the six main pastoral provinces (Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Tibet Autonomous Region(TAR), Qinghai, Sichuan and Gansu).
To integrate the rural pastoral communities in these areas into this larger market-based economic development, China made some rapid institutional reforms in how rangelands were managed, and accompanied these reforms with some centralised market-based policy interventions.
A policy in the early 90s moved the management of rangelands from a community-based system, to being based around household contracts, with individual privatized rangeland user-rights. This was called the Rangeland Household Contract Policy (RHCP). Then, in 2008, China introduced a market-based rangeland transfer system, which aimed to re-aggregate rangeland resources, and promote more optimal animal husbandry.
All of these market-based institutional reforms are underpinned by the belief that the older community-based system – which is based around community collective use of rangelands, with traditionally-inherited customary institutions and cultural norms – is irrational. According to this view, the old system leads to open access and the degradation of rangelands.
Market-based arrangements aim to correct this by ‘re-aggregating’ the household-based rangeland resources and allocating them more efficiently. They also support intensive animal husbandry and a rotational grazing system, which is meant to improve herder livelihoods and promote sustainable rangeland management.
The pastoralists in these areas have taken these reforms and adapted them to find systems that work for them.