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China’s Grassland Contract Policy and its Impacts on Herder Ability to Benefit in Inner Mongolia: Tragic Feedbacks

Wenjun Li, Peking University
Lynn Huntsinger, University of California, Berkeley

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Abstract

Northern China’s grasslands have been losing productivity since the 1980s, when a policy known as the “grassland contracting policy” allocated commonly used grazing lands to individual herder households. Examined here is the connection between implementation of the grassland contracting policy and the loss of grassland production using the analytic concepts of ability to benefit and community failure. A gacha (village) of the Sunite Left Banner of the Xilingol League in Inner Mongolia is used as a case study to compare herder ability to benefit from rangeland resources during adverse climate events before and after policy implementation. Social-ecological resilience, access to social and ecological assets, and institutions supporting crisis relief have been affected. We find that the privatization of grassland use rights has weakened pastoralist ability to benefit from rangelands by weakening or dismantling what are identified as the rights-, structure-, and relations-based abilities that enabled pastoralists to cope with nonequilibrium conditions. This has led to a community failure that engenders feedbacks of increased impoverishment and environmental deterioration. The inflexible boundaries of quasi-private household property rights have caused the pastoral system to lose capacity to respond to drought and weather events through the flexibility of “otor” and other forms of herd movement, increasing vulnerability to environmental change.

Key words

arid lands; climate change; community failure; Inner Mongolia; pastoralism; privatization; property rights; rangelands
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087