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Rangelands and Pastoral Production on the Tibetan Plateau in Western China

Changes and Challenges in Tibetan Pastoral Areas

Nomad tent and motorcycle, near Qinghai Lake, Qinghai Province.

In recent decades, many changes have taken place on Tibetan rangelands that are transforming centuries-old traditional pastoral practices and the lives of nomads. Changes include the modernisation process itself, which has brought improved access and services to previously remote nomadic areas and increased demand for livestock products. In many areas, official government policies now advocate the settling of nomads and the privatisation and fencing of rangelands.

Fence line contrast on rangelands near Damxung, Tibet.

The settling down of Tibetan nomads and the privatisation and fencing of rangelands across much of the Tibetan Plateau is a complex situation. On the one hand, settling the nomads enables much improved social services to be delivered to previously remote nomadic areas. Yet, this process also often reduces the traditional spatial mobility of the nomadís herds, increasing the potential for overgrazing and rangeland degradation.

Nomads playing billiards, Shuanghu, Tibet.

The expansion of the human population in Tibetan pastoral areas is cause for concern. The capacity of the rangelands to support greatly increased numbers of livestock is limited. In the future, therefore, increasing numbers of the nomadic population will probably be forced to seek employment and livelihoods elsewhere if substantially more income can not be realised from livestock. As such, development programmes for pastoral areas need to place greater emphasis on education and preparing nomad children for lives other than herding yaks.

Nomad camp at about 4900 m near Nyima, Tibet.

Sustainable development in Tibetan pastoral areas requires a much better understanding of rangeland dynamics, greater appreciation for Tibetan nomads and their way of life, and consideration of new information and ideas emerging about rangeland ecosystems and traditional pastoral production. Properly managed, the grazing lands on the Tibetan Plateau can continue to be sources for water, provide habitat for wildlife and grazing for livestock, and contribute to overall economic development.

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