Institutional innovation for resource management on the Tibetan plateau, China

The PASTRES country lead for China, Gongbuzeren, has a fascinating new article out in Ecology and Society (open access), together with Lynn Huntsinger and Wenjun Li. It is based on extended fieldwork on the Tibetan plateau and explores how pastoral communities are responding to rapid economic and policy change.

New hybrid institutional arrangements are emerging for resource management, which are neither fully privatised (as encouraged by policy) nor fully communal (as existed in the past), but provide resilience in the face of uncertain change.

The case of the community-based quota system is explored in the paper, based on research in Guinan County in Qinghai province and Ruoergai County in Sichuan province.

The abstract of the article is here, but do read the full article! The findings are important for PASTRES, as we explore how new institutions emerge in pastoral settings as responses to uncertainty.

These draw upon ‘traditional’ systems, but necessarily must improvise and innovate. Despite the reforms in rangeland areas in China, there remains space for such innovation, and the lessons learned here are important across context where rapid change is transforming pastoral systems.

Resilience emerges when new responses can be experimented with and embedded in pastoral settings, as occurred in the field study areas in China.

Abstract: Rebuilding pastoral social-ecological resilience on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau in response to changes in policy, economics, and climate

Economic, policy, and climate changes have profoundly influenced pastoral social-ecological systems on the Tibetan Plateau. Climate change is believed to be leading to increasing extreme weather conditions such as snow disasters and droughts, putting a strain on the rangeland resources herders must have to increase income. Market-based economic reforms and interrelated development policies such as the Rangeland Household Contract Policy, the Ecological Construction Project, and herder settlement Initiatives have increased integration of pastoral regions into modern markets with promotion of tourism, expanded livestock markets, and marketing opportunities for rangeland resources.

Although allocating common rangelands to households is the foundation of current rangeland management strategies to achieve these goals, it removes important technologies for coping with high variability in rangeland forage production from the traditional rangeland management portfolio on the Tibetan Plateau. These include shared risk, shared labour, seasonal and yearly herd mobility, and access to diverse areas of rangelands and multiple water sources.

A field study of two villages in Guinan County of Qinghai Province, and Ruoergai County of Sichuan Province from 2011 to 2014 found that the villages responded to externally driven policy, economic, and climate changes with an innovative locally adapted quota-based grazing management system that preserves valuable management technologies, conserves rangeland resources, and provides individual opportunities for financial gain.

In this way the village social-ecological system has exhibited considerable resiliency, maintaining a form of community governance that functions to manage the rangelands, improve well-being as indicated by livestock productivity, and, according to local perceptions, maintain rangeland condition.

The community-based grazing quota system devised by the villages occupies a middle ground between common and individual models for resource use because it focuses more on how to equitably distribute services and utilities from rangelands, instead of how to distribute rangelands.

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