Sustainable Development in Western China: Managing People, Livestock and Grasslands in Pastoral Areas

Article excerpt

Sustainable Development in Western China: Managing People, Livestock and Grasslands in Pastoral Areas, by Colin G. Brown, Scott A. Waldron and John W. Longworth. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2008. xviii + 294 pp. £69.95/US$135.00 (hardcover).

Agricultural economists Colin Brown, Scott Waldron and John Longworth provide a comprehensive overview of pastoral development policies and issues in Western China. Beginning with the argument that there are currently "too many people with too many livestock ek[ing] out meager livelihoods on an ever decreasing and degraded grassland resource" (p.l), they suggest that China's key policy challenge is reconciling the goals of improving herder livelihoods and addressing grassland degradation. This in turn requires reconciling the policy objectives of central and local governments and of different agencies. Throughout the nine chapters, the authors also provide numerous case-study boxes drawn from their own extensive research in Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang and Gansu.

After introducing the major dimensions of the challenge and characteristics of the Chinese policy environment, the book describes China's three major grassland zones and the state and causes of grassland degradation. Chapter 3 discusses property rights and state institutions governing rangeland use. In recent years the state has proactive Iy reasserted its regulation of local grassland management. The authors argue that, in the context of decentralization, this helps avoid conflicts of interest with local governments over funding priorities, but that a balance must be struck because central authorities cannot tailor systems to local circumstances, given the immense diversity of China's pastoral regions.

Chapter 4 analyzes grassland policies, laws and programs, including the National Grassland Law and the Reduce Grazing Return Grasslands program. Concerns with the implementation of the latter include issues of equity in compensation, adequacy of funding, incentive distortions and the possibility that using the best grazing lands for forage crops may further degrade remaining pastures. More generally, there is often a significant disjuncture between the intent of programs, which are largely reactive in character, and their implementation at the local level. The fifth chapter discusses the structural problems posed by grassland decollectivization, including issues of productivity, efficiency of service provision, and challenges of marketing, branding and integration. A spectrum of organizational forms has emerged to meet these challenges, including household specialization, producer associations and larger, vertically -integrated agro-industrial enterprises.

Chapter 6 examines how the government has sought to manage livestock systems through industry regulations and targets, attempts to shift from extensive to intensive feed systems, breeding and fencing. Here the authors highlight the clash between increasing production and protecting the environment, noting that local government plans have targets to increase livestock numbers, even in areas where there is presumably severe degradation due to overstocking. These contradictions are to be resolved through technical intensification. However, this often requires external sources of feed supply, exposing pastoralists to price fluctuations, and is not possible in more remote areas. Fencing, another major component of current management strategies, breaks up heterogeneous landscapes and restricts opportunistic grazing practices. It is best considered part of a system of practices, rather than as the cure-all solution in itself.

The discussion of markets in Chapter 7 examines factors that affect price determination at both the macro and micro levels. At the macro level, the authors critique the strong supply side focus of current policies. Efforts to increase value per unit grazing pressure include those directed at increasing technical productivity and producing and marketing to higher value segments of the market. …