Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

Climate Variability, Change of Land Use and Vulnerability in Pastoral Society: A Case from Inner Mongolia

Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

Climate Variability, Change of Land Use and Vulnerability in Pastoral Society: A Case from Inner Mongolia

Article excerpt

Climate variability is a primary characteristic of arid and semi-arid areas where drought occurs frequently. As a disaster, drought is the result of both low precipitation and social factors. If the institutions governing grassland use fail to deal with drought, grassland degradation and herder poverty will result. Based on a case study conducted in Hexigten Banner of eastern Inner Mongolia, we found that drought impacts caused by climate variability were aggravated by resource use conflicts. A series of social and economic changes in pastoral societies, including grassland segmentation, sedentarization, increased buying-in of fodder, decrease in cooperation amongst herders, and industrial development, have made herders more vulnerable to drought. Less fodder production, increased costs, and heavy debt within a disrupted community make a herder's life unsustainable. The paper points out that changes driven by policy makers may aggravate herders' vulnerability and that an alternative approach of adaptation should be developed.

Keywords: drought, sedentarization, grassland privatization, vulnerability, Inner Mongolia


When we arrived at Gonger Village in Hexigten Banner in 2010, we joined in the Nadam Fair, a traditional Mongolian sporting and cultural event. Suri, the chief of the village, said that herders were not as enthusiastic about the traditional competitions as usual because there had been no rain for a long time. The livestock rearing would be a failure this year if there was no rain in the near future. Without rain, there would be no forage for cutting, and no way to pass the winter. In the village, all of our conversations concentrated on rain and drought. In the first evening we stayed in the village. When a snake passed the door of Suri's house he was very happy because there is a local saying that a snake on the road is a sign of rain. When the morning was very cold he was upset because he believed that the colder the weather, the drier the summer.

Since 2000, Inner Mongolia has experienced a period of frequent disasters, especially drought. Even though most of Inner Mongolia is semi-arid, arid or extremely arid, and 'nine droughts in ten years' is the primary characteristic of the climate, the frequency of drought in the past ten years has been much higher than before (Gong and Wang 1994; Weather Society of Inner Mongolia 1985). According to data from the Water Conservancy Bureau of Chifeng City, where Hexigten Banner is located, the water supplies of nine reservoirs decreased by 73.7 per cent in 2010 compared with the multiyear average level. Moreover, several important rivers of Chifeng City had zero flow (Xinhuanet 2010). An important background to all of these natural disasters is the impact of climate change on global precipitation and temperature, whereby drylands are the most severely affected (Anderson et al. 2010). As the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC concluded, globally, the area influenced by drought has possibly expanded, with mid-latitude drylands affected by climate change especially with regard to water resources (IPCC 2007).

In addition to the impacts of climate change there have been two dramatic changes in socio-economic institutions in pastoral areas in Inner Mongolia in the last thirty years. One is the implementation of the Livestock and Grassland Double-Contract Responsibility System (LGDCRS) started in the 1980s. The other is a series of ecological protection projects that include fencing grassland, decreasing livestock numbers, implementing grazing bans, and protecting forests, which started in 2000.

Since the 1980s, the LGDCRS has been implemented in Inner Mongolia with the aim of promoting grassland protection and livestock husbandry development. By contracting grassland usufruct to individual households, it was expected to promote the transition from transhumance to settled living and grazing. The construction of productive infrastructures and planting of fodder and forage became the main themes for developing grassland livestock breeding (Li and Zhang 2009: 63). …

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