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Current rangeland management in Zhongdian County, Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan, P.R. China

X. Hongyan1, C. Richard2, X. Jianchu1 and W. Jianhua1

1. Kunming Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Science, Kunming 650204, Yunnan, P.R. China
2. International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), Kathmandu, Nepal


Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture is located in the upper reaches of the Yangtze River in Yunnan Province. Due to the implementation of the logging ban in the upper reaches of the Yangtze River, the industry structure of Diqing has changed from timber to tourism, animal husbandry, biological resources and hydroelectricity. Animal husbandry has a long history locally; therefore the logging ban provides a good opportunity for animal husbandry development. Animal husbandry is the major industry in Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. At present there are problems in developing animal husbandry. One of the most serious problems is the degradation of rangelands due to overgrazing, at the same time, Diqing prefecture is located in the southern part of the Tibetan Plateau and its altitude averages 3380 metres above sea level (masl). Thus the natural climatic condition is very severe and the lack of fodder in winter is problematic. In order to solve these two issues Zhongdian Animal Bureau has introduced Australian grass species to local people in 1990. Therefore the style of ancient nomadic grazing and farmland utilisation has been changed. Tibetan people of Zhongdian have accumulated knowledge regarding utilisation and management of artificial grasslands, the farmers are aware that the introduced Australian species are not suitable for the local physical conditions. Based on a one-year of intensive field surveys on the management of artificial grasslands, the present utilisation situation and associated issues regarding utilisation are discussed. Some useful suggestions on local animal husbandry are presented.

Keywords: Artificial rangeland, timber ban, management, Tibetan


Physical geography

Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture is located in the North-West of Yunnan Province, on the south-eastern edge of Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau and the centre of Heng Duan Mountain Range. It is located in between 98°37'100°23'E and 26°57'29°12'N. The total area is 23,870 km2. It includes Zhongdian, Diqing and Weixi Lizu Minority Autonomous Counties. Diqing lies in the upper reaches of the Yangtze and Mekong Rivers.

The elevation ranges from 15305545 masl, the average altitude is 3380 masl. About 93.5% of the land is mountainous. The annual mean temperature is 5.5°C. Average rainfall is 700 mm per annum.


Diqing is located in a transitional zone in terms of geological, physiognomy and climatic movement. The area has high mountains and deep valleys. The Lancang (Mekong River) and the Jinsha (Upper reaches of the Yangtze River) run southwards side-by-side with the Hengduan Mountains. These form the world famous gorge area of these rivers and the Hendduan Mountain Range. The influences of both low and high altitudes in the Hengduan Mountain Ranges produce varied and colourful highland plants. It is the richest area of plants in China with more than 5000 highland species. The vegetation types can be divided into dry and semidry valley, open bush lands, evergreen broad-leaved forests and evergreen conifer forests of the subtropics, temperate and frigid conifer forests, alpine bush woods and the meadows, alpine screes and periglacial vegetation.


The total population of the area is approximately 334 thousand (Government statistic 1999), 84.8% of which are minority nationalities including 33.8% Tibetan and 29% Lizu.

Research methods and the research site

Research methods

Key informant interview: In this study, we interviewed key people from related government departments, such as the Grassland Station of Zhongdian Animal Husbandry Bureau and Zhongdian Forestry Bureau. We also interviewed the village leader and some farmers in Tuo Munan village.

Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) methods: Many PRA tools were used to collect information from farmers. The PRA tools include the following:

Intensive field surveys: The characteristics of artificial grasslands (condition and plant species) in Tuo Munan village were surveyed.

Background of Tuo Munan village

Tuo Munan village belongs to He Pin Administration Village of Xiao Zhongdian countryside and is located in the south of Zhongdian County. The annual mean temperature is about 5.8°C. The annual mean rainfall is 849.8 mm.

Yak, cattle, yak-cattle crossbreeds, goats, horses, pigs, sheep and mules are raised. The farmers cultivate their fields once a year only and plant in early spring (from March to April in the lunar calendar) and harvest in late autumn (October). Barley (bare and husked varieties), buckwheat (bitter and sweet varieties), potato and Brassica rapa L. and other vegetables comprise the bulk of the year's yield.

Tuo Munan village has 500 mu (1 hectare = 15 mu) of natural grassland in 'La Bu', and it shares the natural grassland with another village. The farmers in Tuo Munan village began to plant artificial grasslands in 1992 and currently have 123 mu artificial grasslands.

Results and discussion

The present management of traditional grasslands

Tibetan herders in Zhongdian classify the rangeland into two types-natural rangeland and cradle rangeland. Natural rangeland includes summer pastoral (Tibetan word is Ri Gong), all year public grazing grassland and winter grassland (Tibetan name is Ge Gong). Cradle rangeland includes natural cradle rangeland and backyard for drying the fodder and barley.

There are three traditional nomadic styles in Zhongdian: ecesis, semi-nomadism and semi-ecesis.

There is approximately 5.03 million mu of rangeland in Zhongdian that makes the development of grazing in Zhongdian viable. However, there are many physical and social factors to inhibit the development of animal grazing. For example, the plants' growing period is at most six months due to the cold and arid nature of the environment. All the plants die in October and grow again in May. Lack of fodder is serious in winter and spring. The cycle of animal grazing consistency with fodder availability, according to local people, is that livestock are born in summer, fattening in autumn, reducing over winter and dying in the spring.

The alpine rangeland becomes degraded with shrubs and weeds after several years. Traditionally, the herders congregate to dig a buffer zone and then burn the shrubs and weeds within the fenced area. On one side, the shrubs (including Rhodendron spp, Quercus spp) and weeds (Stellera spp.) are burned. On the other side, the ash is used to fertilise the soil. But Diqing government forbade burning grazing land, and open swidden land in one closed mountain pass area, so that this method of renewing grasslands cannot be carried out. As a result, the area of pasture is becoming more degraded and a big conflict exists between grazing and forest in Diqing.

At present, because of overgrazing and invasion of weeds, the degradation of rangelands is very serious (Tu and Luo 1992; Wang et al 1996; Ma and Zu 1997; Wang 1997; Zhang et al 1998; Wang and Li 1999). Fragments of rangelands and the spreading of Stellera spp. are widespread in Zhongdian.

The condition of artificial rangelands

The Zhongdian Animal Husbandry Bureau has built thousands of mu of artificial rangelands in Xiao Zhongdian countryside since 1990. They chose four species of plants indigenous to Australia that were thought to be suitable to grow in Zhongdian. The four species are Trifolium repens L., Poa annua L., Trifolium pratense L. and Lolium perenne L.

The average fresh production of artificial grasses is 993.56 kg/mu and the maximum production is 1140.75 kg/mu. It is 2.32 times than that of natural grassland. If the grasses on artificial rangelands are harvested two times per year, one year's fresh grass production is equal to six years fresh grass production on natural rangelands.

The experience of managing and utilising artificial grassland by Tibetans

Local people's participation is vital to successful rangeland systems (Panjab Singh 1996). The farmers of Tuo Munan participate daily in managing and utilising artificial grasslands. Hence they have accumulated mature knowledge. The experiences of planting, land tenure, fertilisation, harvesting, grazing and benefits of artificial rangelands are discussed.

Ten days after they harvest all the crops, the animals come down from the alpine pastoral area and graze freely in the public rangelands. All animals are kept out of the artificial grassland.

From the practical experiences of the management and utilisation of the farmers, we can draw the following conclusions:

  1. The farmers replant the grasslands every 3 years and they avoid destroying the grasslands from overgrazing and trampling. They chose sheep to graze on the artificial grasslands for 10 days; this indicates they have paid attention to the sustainable production of artificial grasslands.
  2. They chose the animal species to graze on the artificial grassland and also chose the best manure to fertilise the pastoral lands. The managing experience is the result of selection and comparison over time.

  3. The farmers want to avoid the conflict of overgrazing on public grasslands so they employ a distribution system where individual owners manage together for individual gain. The system indicates that clear land tenure is an effective management tool and can improve the activity and interest in participating.

  4. They accumulate useful experience from the mistakes made at each stage.

Some difficulties in managing artificial grasslands

Tuo Munan village resolved the lack of fodder in winter times from 1992 onwards, so the animal's numbers are rising rapidly. However, the farmers believe it is difficult to manage artificial grassland and more and more farmers pay attention to the following difficulties:


The relationship between protecting forestlands and returning farming land to grasslands

After the logging ban was implemented in 1998, Diqing prefecture invested 300 million RMB Yuan (US$ 1 = 8.2 Yuan during this survey) to build rangelands around the Yangtze River. In addition, Diqing Prefecture has 15,704 thousand mu of wild lands in which to plant grass. The project of returning farming land to grasslands will be carried out step by step in 2000. The area of rangelands will be extended and the production of fodder will rise. This will provide a good basis for animal husbandry.

Repair of traditional pasture

The traditional methods for repair and renewal of pasture have a long history in the local area, and practical experience has proved these methods are feasible. Due to the difficulties in developing animal husbandry in Diqing Prefecture, the traditional methods are important for repairing and renewing pasture in the local area. The co-operation of different government departments is an important way towards sustainable utilisation of the rangeland resource.

Local species grassland experiment

If we only notice the production of artificial grasses, we could conclude that the artificial grassland relieves local fodder shortages. But from our intensive interviews we see the artificial grassland need more labour input to maintain the normal production, and the ability to be renewed is limited. At the same time, its ability to be grazed is very poor. For these reasons, we may conclude the artificial grasslands of exotic species are not suitable to the local environment and climate.

The authors recommend the planting of artificial grassland with locally adapted species to gradually replace the exotic species in artificial rangelands in Zhongdian. The locally adapted species should be expanded gradually, collecting seed and replanting artificial grasslands.


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