New initiative aims to reduce poverty on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau
News item, November 2010
A major international project to help reduce poverty in one of the poorest and most ecologically fragile regions of China was launched in September in Xining city, Qinghai Province, China.
The collaborative initiative, involving experts from the UK and Switzerland as well as representatives from Chinese government agencies and institutions, will aim to understand the causes of grassland degradation on the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau and how this affects the livelihoods of farmers and traditional yak herders in the region. High grazing pressures on the plateau grasslands have left about 40% of them degraded, and these worrying changes are being amplified by climate change.
The project will be conducted by a team comprising scientists from Lancaster University (UK), the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture, the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Qinghai Academy of Social Sciences, Qinghai University, CABI (Centre for Agricultural Bioscience International), and the UK Natural Environment Research Council Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.
Project leader, Professor Richard Bardgett of the Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University, said "There is a very sensitive link between the ecology of these grasslands, their management, and the livelihoods of the herders. Anything that upsets this link, such as overgrazing or climate change, can cause rapid degradation of the grasslands making it hard for herders to maintain a living. Our project aims to provide policy makers with an improved understanding of the causes of grassland degradation and its link to poverty in this region. We also aim to develop tools, based on sound ecological principles, that can be used to restore the grassland to a healthy state and therefore help to reduce poverty.”
Professor Zhang Lijian, a senior official of the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture said “This project will greatly help us in delivering our new national Five-year plans (the 12th Five-year plans), which includes better conservation of grasslands and more effective poverty alleviation in the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau region. Since the Chinese Government has made great progress in poverty alleviation in the past, our experience could be used in the planned ESPA project. In particular, better conservation and sustainable harvesting of Cordyceps (or caterpillar fungi), which has huge economic value, will be crucial to the poverty alleviation in this region.”
The Director General of Science and Technology Department of the Qinghai Province, Dr Xie Yuan, said “Qinghai Province, possessing important grassland types, animal production base, and Cordyceps resources, has made significant progress in poverty alleviation and grassland restorations thanks to the effective policy interventions and financial investment from both central and provincial government. However, the Province is facing great challenges in the 12th Five-year plans to achieve further progress because grasslands have degraded to such a great extent. International co-operation is much needed to seek effective solutions to this problem and to alleviate poverty.”
The launch of the project coincided with a major policy announced by the Chinese government to provide financial assistance for herders in West China, to reward their efforts in conserving grasslands and to compensate them for losses. From next year, the policy will be applied in eight provinces of western China, including Qinghai and Tibet, said a circular issued 12 October after a State Council executive meeting presided over by Premier Wen Jiabao. Such a policy on ecological compensations and other policy interventions, coupled with scientific endeavours of both Chinese and international experts, and capacity building of stakeholders including herders, will be powerful combinations of efforts in combating poverty.
The project was developed during a workshop funded by a development grant from the UK Ecosystem Services and Poverty Alleviation programme, supported by the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), Department for International Development (DIFD), and Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).