al herders on long-term contracts.  This policy entails high transaction costs, both private and public.  Strict interpretation of the policy by local officials also prevents the adoption of more innovative forms of group-based rangeland tenure systems, often based on the traditional grazing management systems.

 

The government is placing a major emphasis on livestock breeding in the pastoral areas.  However, livestock development should adopt an approach that views livestock production as just one important aspect of an overall natural resource management strategy for the pastoral areas.  Given the seriousness of the problems related to the pastoral areas, new approaches that better integrate livestock production with improved range management, more efficient marketing of livestock and livestock products, and pastoral risk management are warranted. 

 

Poverty in Tibetan Nomad Areas

Reducing poverty among Tibetan nomads is a major development challenge.   Efforts to reduce poverty and improve livelihoods of Tibetan farmers and nomads must address the roots of rural poverty.   Fully understanding rural poverty and defining an effective poverty reduction strategy are preconditions to action (World Bank 2000).   Tackling poverty in Tibetan nomad areas is constrained because of the poor understanding of the nature of poverty – who are the poor and the obstacles they face – and reliable information about the pastoral production system.  To date, most nomads have not participated fully in the assessment, planning and implementation of development programs and policies that affect their lives.  Development programs have generally taken a top-down approach and, despite their good intentions, have often been hampered because nomads themselves were not involved in the design and implementation of activities and by faulty assumptions about poverty and nomads’ lives.

 

The incidence and intensity of poverty is highest in the remote areas of the Tibetan Plateau.  The people in these areas are usually less healthy, less educated, and tend to experience poorer service delivery and declining employment opportunities.   Poverty exhibits certain common characteristics, but the Tibetan nomadic population and the poverty they experience have distinct features.  The nomadic areas of the Tibetan Plateau in Western China have a small human population that is widely spread across physically isolated locations.  Tibetan nomads usually face interlocking barriers to economic, social and political opportunities.  They also lack a political voice because they are remote from the seats of power.  These factors limit their access to basic infrastructure, undermine their ability to obtain social services, and in some cases reduce their rights to own or access land.  Due to heavy reliance on rangeland-resource based livestock production systems, Tibetan nomads are also very vulnerable to climatic changes and natural disasters.  For example, the winter of 1997/98 was very severe across much of the Tibetan Plateau and an estimated 3 million head of livestock died in the Tibetan Autonomous Region, leading to greatly increased poverty among the nomad population.

 

Poverty in the Tibetan nomadic areas is extremely heterogeneous.  Many of the poor nomads, both individuals and households, are economically active and possess a mix of income sources while others, especially the elderly, disabled and women headed households, have to rely on other families and government support.

 

Animal husbandry remains the primary source of income, employment and livelihood for Tibetan nomads, and a flourishing livestock sector is necessary to reduce poverty.  There are few alternative sources of income and employment outside of the livestock sector for Tibetan nomads.  This is in contrast to many other rural poor areas of China where poor farmers are turning to the rural non-farm sector  (mainly Township-Village Enterprises, or TVEs) for employment and alternative sources of income.  Many of the rural poor from other parts of China also migrate to the cities in search of work, which is generally not the case for Tibetan nomads.   Since livestock production in Tibet is very dependent on the vagaries of nature, there is great annual and interannual variation in income and consumption.  This often leads to the poorest nomad households experiencing considerable deprivation during tough times, which can have adverse long-term consequences for babies and young children.    In Tibet, severe winter snowstorms can lead to considerable hardships for nomads.

 

Profiles of Poverty Among Tibetan Nomads

Profiles of poverty among Tibetan nomads in two different areas, Maqu County in Gansu Province and Naqu County in the Tibetan Autonomous Region, are presented below to help understand poverty in Tibetan nomadic areas.  The impact of policies and the political economy on the poor nomads are also briefly described and then the key elements of a poverty reduction strategy for Tibetan nomad areas are summarized.

 

Case Study 1: Naqu, Tibetan Autonomous Region.  Naqu Prefecture encompasses about 400,000 km2, or about one-third of the total land area of the Tibetan Autonomous Region.  Naqu is predominantly a nomadic livestock area and rangelands are estimated to cover about 87 percent of the total land area of the Prefecture.  About 65 percent of the rangeland is considered to be useable rangeland.  There is some crop cultivation that takes place in the lower elevation regions of Jiali Sokshan and Biru counties.  There are 11 counties in Naqu Prefecture, including 147 townships (xiang) and 1,527 Administrative Villages.  The total human population of Naqu is about 340,000 people, in about 50,000 households.  Nomadic herders make up about 90 percent of the population and these nomads are almost totally dependent upon livestock for a livelihood.  Naqu’s rangelands support a livestock population of about 6.8 million animals, consisting of yaks, cattle, sheep, goats, and horses.

 

The proportion of different livestock species raised by nomads in Naqu Prefecture differs across the region according to rangeland factors and the suitability of the landscape for different animals.  Herd compositions within a geographic area can also vary with the skills, preferences and availability of labor of the nomads.  Across most of western Naqu Prefecture, sheep and goats are more common than yaks.  For example, in Shuanghu County in northwest Naqu, yaks only make up four percent of total livestock numbers.  In contrast, yaks comprise 53 percent of all livestock 400 km to the east in Jiali County.  These differences can largely be explained by differences in vegetation between the two areas.  In Shuanghu, the climate is drier and the dominant alpine steppe and desert steppe is better suited to goats and sheep.  In Jiali, which is in the alpine meadow vegetation formation, there is more annual rainfall and the rangeland ecosystem is better suited to raising yaks. 

 

The dynamics of poverty among Tibetan nomads, can be better understood by looking at the following tables where information is presented from Takring and Dangmo Townships in Naqu County of Naqu Prefecture.   Many nomads interviewed indicated that an ideal herd for an average nomad family (about 5 people) would be 40 yaks and 200 sheep/goats.  Table 1, however indicates that, on average, nomads in Taking and Dangmo only have about 30 yaks and 50-75 sheep/goats.  

 

Table 1.  Livestock Per Household in Taking and Dangmo Townships.

 

Township

Yaks/family

Sheep/family

Goats/family

Takring

31

38

12

Dangmo

30

52

15

Source: Township Records, 1999.

 

 

Table 2 depicts the number of animal sold and consumed, on a average basis for the two townships of Takring and Dangmo.  What is clear from the data, is that the nomads in these two townships have very few animals to sell for cash income.  Most of their production goes to subsistence for their own consumption.  This reflects the fact that average herd sizes (see Table 1) are quite low and provide little offtake for income earning purposes or to buy additional items.

 

Table  2.  Livestock Sold and Consumed Per Family in Takring and Dangmo Townships.

 

Township

Yaks sold

Per family

Yaks eaten

Per family

Sheep sold  per family

Sheep eaten per family

Goats sold per family

Goats eaten per family

Takring

0.49

2.17

3.97

10.74

0.12

2.86

Dangmo

0.84

1.81

1.73

8.25

0.07

1.49

Source: Township Records, 1999.

 

 

Table 3 shows the income per family from livestock and livestock products on an average basis for Dangmo Township.  The greatest amount of income is earned from yaks and then from sheep.

 

Table  3.  Income Per Family From Livestock Products in Dangmo Township.

 

Township

Sheep wool

Sold/family

Goat cashmere

Sold/family

Yak cashmere

Sold/family

Yak sold

Per family

Sheep sold

Per family

Goat sold per family

Dangmo

30.8 jin

1.45 jin

11.86 jin

0.84

1.73

0.07

Value in RMB

@3 = 92.4

@70 = 101.5

@10 = 118.6

1428

432

 7

Prices for live animals: Yak @ RMB 1700, Sheep @ RMB 250 Goat @ RMB 100

 

Table 4 shows the total economic output from Dangmo Township for 1999 and also points to the fact that yaks make up almost 60 percent of economic value.  Although sales of wool and cashmere are valuable, raising sheep and yaks for home consumption and sale are key factors in pastoral production among Tibetan nomads in Naqu.

 

 

 

 

Table 4.  Economic output from Dangmo Township for 1999. 

 

Product

Value

% of total

12,200 jin of sheep wool @ Y 3.5

     576 jin of goat cashmere @ Y 70

  4,697 jin  of yak cashmere @ 10

  1,048 yak @ Y 1,700

  3,952 sheep @ 250

     617 goat @ Y 100

         4 horses @ Y 7,000

42,700

40,320

46,970

1,781,600

988,000

61,700

28,000

1.4

1.3

1.5

59.6

33.1

2.1

0.9

 

2,989,290

99.9

Note: includes total animals sold and consumed by the households.  Not included is wool used and butter/cheese eaten.  Very little butter/cheese is sold from Dangmo.

 

 

Table 5 shows total livestock numbers and total offtake by livestock species in Takring and Dangmo Township.  Yak offtake, which includes animals sold and eaten about 8 percent of the total herd.  Sheep offtake is about 38 percent in Takring and 19 percent in Dangmo.  Goat offtake is 23 percent in Takring and only 10 percent in Dangmo.   The differences between Takring and Dangmo cannot be totally explained by livestock numbers per household as Takring actually has fewer sheep per household, on an average basis, than Dangmo but has higher offtake.  Some of this is probably due to access to markets as Takring is much closer to the main market in Naqu.

 

 

Table 5. Livestock Numbers and Total Offtake in Takring and Dangmo Townships.

 

Township

Total yak

Yak

Offtake & %

Total sheep

Sheep offtake & %

Total goat

Goat

Offtake & %

Takring

20,780

1,742   (8.4)

25,028

9,622 (38.4)

8,371

1,958 (23.4)

Dangmo

11,718

1,048   (8.0)

20,710

3,952 (19.0)

5,778

   617  (10.7)

Source: Township Records, 1999.

 

 

Table 6. Livestock Sold and Consumed for Takring and Dangmo Townships.

 

Township

Yak

Sold &   %

Yak

Eaten &  %

Sheep

Sold & %

Sheep

Eaten & %

Goat

Sold & %

Goat

Eaten & %

Takring

320        (18)

1,422   (82)

2,598     (27)

7,024     (73)

81           (4)

1,875     (96)

Dangmo

332        (32)

  716    (68)

   686     (17)

3,266     (83)

28           (5)

  589      (95)

Source: Township Records, 1999.

 

 

Table 6 illustrates the percentage of livestock, by species, sold and eaten.  In other words, in Takring of total yak offtake, only 18 percent are sold, but 82 percent are for home consumption.  The ratio for sheep in Takring is 27 percent sold and 73 percent consumed by nomads themselves.  What is interesting is that very few goats are sold, which probably reflects the low demand for goat meat in markets in Tibet.  Goats are raised primarily for cashmere, and as meat for the nomads themselves.

 

This type of information helps understand the nomad production system and has implications for development.  First, much of the nomads’ production is for home consumption.  There is little excess for sale.  Development interventions that improve nomads’ risk management and strive to reduce livestock losses and improve productivity should result in additional animals for sale. 

 

Case Study 2: Maqu, Gansu Province.  Maqu (Tib: rma-chu) County located in Gannan Prefecture in the southwestern part of Gansu Province comprises an area of 10,190 sq km around the first bend of the Yellow River.  Maqu County borders Luqu County of Gannan Prefecture to the northeast, Sichuan Province in the east and southeast, and Qinghai Province in the southwest, west and northwest.   Maqu consists of steep, limestone mountains, the Amnye Gula Ri, rising to 4510 m in the north along the border with Luqu, a mountain range, less than 4200 m, running in a northwest-southeast direction that is the easternmost extension of the Amnye Machin Range, and extensive rangelands between the foothills of these two ranges and the Yellow River at elevations of about 3300-3600 m.  Maqu County is comprised of eight townships, 36 administrative villages and a population of 37,000, of which 89 percent are Tibetan.  About 95 percent of the Tibetan population are nomads.  Maqu is regarded as the southeast extremity of Golok territory in the region known as Amdo.

 

The rangelands of Maqu are some of the most productive grazing lands in Central Asia.  Topography, soils and climatic conditions combine to create a very productive environment for nomadic pastoralism.  Maqu is famous throughout China for its excellent horses, the Hezuo horse, and a local breed of Tibetan sheep, the Ngulra breed (Chinese: Oula).   Average annual precipitation is about 600 mm, with most of this falling in the period May-August, which provides sufficient moisture in most years for good grass growth.  The region periodically receives heavy snowfalls in late winter and early spring that can cause severe livestock losses.

 

Maqu and adjoining counties in Gansu, Qinghai and Sichuan have some of the highest livestock densities in the pastoral world with livestock densities of 300-350 sheep units per sq km not uncommon in some villages.   Nomads raise yaks, sheep and horses.  In 1997, the end-of-year census of livestock for Maqu County included 280,399 yaks, 289,812 sheep, and 37,936 horses.   On a sheep unit[1] basis, this works out to 1.4 million yaks, 289 thousand sheep and 227 thousand horses.  In other words, even though numbers of yaks and sheep are roughly the same, on a sheep unit or livestock biomass basis, yaks make up 73% of all livestock, while sheep only comprise 15% and horses about 12%.   Livestock density for Maqu County, on an average basis, is 223 sheep units per sq km.

 

Marma Township encompasses 111,701 ha (1,675,519 mu) in the east-central part of Maqu County.  About 84% (93,727 ha) of the Township is considered to be available for grazing.  Sand dunes and ‘black beach’ cover about 1200 ha.  There are a total of 14 different swampy or marshland areas in Marma, comprising about 9000 ha.  Marma is comprised of five Administrative Villages, with 5,804 people in 1,056 households.  The total number of livestock in Marma, at the end of 2000, was 135,199, of which 40% were yak.  Human and livestock population, by village, is depicted in Table 7.  Table 8 provides information on the average number of yaks, sheep and horses per household, by Administrative Village, and total sheep units per household.   On average, nomads in Marma have 51 yaks per household, 71 sheep and about 6 horses.  In 2000, Marma Township sold 13,334 yaks, 13,891 sheep and 1,485 horses.  This works out to an offtake rate of almost 20% in yaks and 15% of the sheep flock. 

 

 

Table 7.  People and livestock population for Marma Township.

Village

Families

People

Yak

Sheep

Horse

Gecha

233

1,244

9,673

14,670

1,456

Delong

155

731

6,089

8,925

927

Chumo

222

1,285

14,783

12,747

1,900

Dragto

215

1,213

13,060

14,696

500

Yodar

231

1,331

9,823

24,121

1,829

Totals

1,056

5,804

53,428

75,159

6,612

Source: Township Records, 2000

 

Table 8.  People per family and livestock per household for Marma.

Village

People/hh

Yak/hh

Sheep/hh

Horse/hh

Sus/hh

Gecha

5.34

41

63

6.2

268

Delong

4.71

39

58

6.0

253

Chumo

5.79

66

57

8.5

387

Dragto

5.64

60

68

2.3

368

Yodar

5.76

42

104

7.9

314

Average

5.49

51

71

6.2

324

SUs/hh refers to sheep units per household, but does not include horses.  Determined by multiplying the total number of yak by 5 (one yak = 5 sheep units) and adding to the total number of sheep (one sheep being one sheep unit).

 

Yodar Administrative Village has large numbers of sheep because the rangeland landscape is better suited for raising sheep (i.e., there is little marshy, swampy rangeland, which is not well suited for sheep).  Chumo and  Dragto have large numbers of yak, relative to sheep because of the extensive marshland in the villages.  Dragto has fewer horses, on a household basis than other villages, reportedly because bandits, who like to steal horses, are still a problem in the area. 

 

In Marma, a real rich nomad household would have 300 yaks or 100 yaks and 400-600 sheep.  Poor nomads will have few or no animals.  In the past, before rangeland was divided some of the richest nomad families had 500 yaks and 100 horses.  With the division and allocation of rangeland to households (which was based on number of people in the family now and the number of livestock allocated to the family when the communes were dissolved in 1982, not on the number of animals currently held) many households have had to sell animals to bring their herds into balance with carrying capacity of rangeland allocated to them.  Many nomads feel that rangeland is now limited and it is difficult for them to increase their herds.  Many herders rent pasture from nomads who have fewer animals.  There is also concern by expressed by some nomads that the reduced mobility of herds – nomads can now only graze on their own land – means that rangeland is not well utilized and there is increased overgrazing and rangeland degradation.  Other nomads and officials reported that the situation is such that some range is being overgrazed while other land is being underutilized. 

 

In natural village 13 of Gecha Administrative Village each person was allocated 152 mu (10 ha) of rangeland.  The ex-village leader reported that before dividing the rangeland, an average household had 100-150 yaks, but now will only have 40-50 as they had to sell animals because rangeland allocated to them was insufficient to maintain their herds.  He felt that after dividing the range they have become poorer and poorer as they now have to stay within the boundaries of their contracted rangeland but he cannot afford fencing to protect others from grazing on his grass.  He felt that his village now has to somehow find a way to fence their land to demarcate it from other villages and to fence winter/spring pasture as priorities.

 

China has significant progress made in recent years in developing basic physical, economic, and social infrastructure, and in improving people’s livelihoods in Tibetan nomadic pastoral areas, but poverty[2] still remains in parts of Maqu County.   Table 9, provides information on the number of poor households, by village for Marma Township.

 

Table 9.  Number of designated poor families, by village in Marma.

 

Village

Total families

Poor families

% of total families

Gecha

233

43

19

Delong

155

51

33

Chumo

222

36

16

Dragto

215

30

14

Yodar

231

37

16

Totals

1056

197

 

Source: Township Records, 2000.

 

Nyima Township encompasses 61,566 ha (923,502 mu) in the northern part of Maqu, bordering neighboring Luqu County.  Total area of rangeland is 59,871 ha and about 86% (51,261 ha) is considered to be available for grazing.  Nyima is comprised of four Administrative Villages and 20 natural villages.  The total number of people is 3,182 in 574 households.  Nyima is a Gannan Prefecture level poverty township and the only poverty township in Maqu County.  The total number of livestock, at the end of 2000, was 74,579, of which 35% were yaks.  The livestock population consisted of 26,510 yak, 47,030 sheep and 1,039 horses.  Livestock density is about 336 sheep units per sq km.  Human and rangeland data, by village, is depicted in Table 10.   On average, Nyima has 46 yak/household, 81 sheep/household, and 1.8 horses/household.

 

Table 10.  People and rangeland data for Nyima Township.

 

Village

Families

People

People/hh

Total Rangeland

(mu)

Available Range

(mu) and %

Goma

157

920

5.86

250,641

233,623      (93) 

Warma

154

973

6.32

287,607

240,761      (84)

Sakar

65

346

5.32

113,823

  92,146      (81)

Shuma

198

943

4.76

245,995

202,394      (82)

 

574

3,182

 

898,066

768,924

 

 

Goma has 4 natural villages, Warma has 7, Sakar has 3 and Shuma has 6 natural villages.  Sakar is the poorest Administrative Village in Nyima.  Goma is the richest village.  Prior to dividing the rangeland, the richest nomad family had 150-200 yaks and 1500 sheep.  There is a total of 65 poverty households in Nyima and 48 households have no livestock at all. 

 

In Nyima, nomads received 248 mu of rangeland per person when the rangeland was divided.   Since division and allocation of the rangeland, the number of livestock has declined.  Many people have sold animals to adjust livestock with the carrying capacity of land allocated to them.  Nomads have particularly reduced the number of horses they now own, especially since one horse is equivalent to six sheep in terms of the amount of grass they eat.  In Nyima, it was found that about 40% of the rangeland was considered to be in poor condition, based on a survey done when the rangeland was divided to households.  Another problem in many areas is the lack of water, especially in the winter.

 

In Sakar, one nomad visited had about 500 sheep and 120 yaks and considered himself to be above average in wealth, but not rich.  He has about 300 adult female sheep (mamo) and 30 milking female yaks  He had nine people in his family and 2,232 mu of grazing land allocated to him.  He rented another 2,000 mu of rangeland from others with no livestock.  For this he has to pay RMB 5,000.  Over half of his income came from selling sheep for meat (Table 11).  The sale of yak wool only comprised 1.5% of his total income.  His rangeland is situated in the mountains and he made a significant amount of money by collecting fees from Han and Hui caterpillar fungus (Tib: yartsa gunbu) collectors who have to pay him to collect on his land.  This nomad family also slaughtered 20 sheep and 6 yaks for their own consumption.

 

 

 

 

 

Table 11.  Income from various sources for Nyima nomad family.

 

Item

Price

(RMB)

Total Value

%

Sold 100 sheep

   300

30,000

55.4

Sold 10 yaks

1,000

10,000

18.5

Sold 400 jin sheep wool

       3

   1,200

  2.2

Sold 80  jin  yak wool

     10

       800

  1.5

Sold 120 jin yak butter

     12

    1,440

  2.6

Sold caterpillar fungus

 

      700

  1.3

Fees from fungus collectors

 

  10,000

18.5

Total

 

  54,140

  100.0

 

 

Poverty is due to many factors and differs widely among villages depending on the environment and access to infrastructure and services.  Some of the causes of poverty in Maqu include: (1) the harsh environment, characteized by high altitudes, cold temperatures, infertile soils, drought, and snowstorms; (2) low livestock productivity;  (3) high livestock mortality; (4) lack of financing and access to modern technologies to improve productivity; (5) low literacy levels and poor education system; and (6) poor health care systems.  Frequent natural disasters, such as droughts and severe snowstorms can greatly increase the levels of poverty in affected areas.

 

In Marma, natural villages 3 and 6 of Dragto are very poor because of extensive degraded rangeland.  Villages 3,4, and 11 in Chumo are also poor because of poor range conditions which do not support large enough herds.  The three above villages in Chumo also have poor access to drinking water.  Village 13 in Gecha also suffers from poor rangeland and poor infrastructure and access.

 

In Nyima, nomads of Sakar Village are in poverty because of poor rangeland condition.  Shuma village is also poor because of poor rangeland and there is also considerable problem with pikas and zokers.  Both Marma and Nyima have welfare programs to help poor people by distributing food and clothing, but they do not have the resources to adequately help them.  There are no health clinics at the Administrative Village level.  Nomads in Nyima go the County Hospital now and nomads in Marma visit a clinic at the Township.  There is a large, fairly well-run primary boarding school in Marma.  In Marma, one of the large monasteries, is also experiencing severe water supply problems. 

 

In Marma Township of Maqu County, about 20 percent of the nomad households are considered to be living in poverty and in the Delong Administrative Village, 33 percent of the households are poverty families.   Nyima Township of Maqu County is a designated Prefecture level poverty township, the only poverty township in Maqu. One of the main reasons for continued poverty among many Tibetan nomads in Maqu since 1982, when the Household Responsibility System was initiated, is insufficient family labor to attend to the livestock.  Nomadic pastoral production is labor intensive as yaks have to be milked, animals have to be herded and cared for, manure needs to be collected and dried for fuel, butter and cheese need to be made, water needs to be fetched, clothing and tents need to be woven, kids need to be looked after and fed and there are seasonal activities such as lambing, shearing, hay-making, and medicinal plant collecting that require extra effort.  Households with inadequate labor to raise enough livestock have been especially affected and become trapped in poverty.  Those families with adequate labor, but who have been poor managers of their livestock and grazing land also face difficulties.  With the division and allocation of rangeland to all households, even poor households now have grazing land that belongs to them and if they do not have enough livestock they can rent pasture to richer nomads who have more livestock than the determined carrying capacity of their allocated rangeland.

 

The harsh environment of the Tibetan Plateau and especially periodic, heavy snowfalls compounds the labor problem and even affects those households with sufficient labor and who are good managers.  Snow disasters can decimate herds and cause even rich nomads to become poor.   Fencing of the more productive pastures to reserve them for winter/spring grazing, the growing of hay and the construction of livestock shelters greatly reduces the risk of losing animals during a bad winter.  Many nomads, especially those who can afford the investments, are adopting pastoral risk management practices to reduce danger of losing animals to winter storms.   Reducing mortality of young lambs and yaks will provide the opportunity to earn more income and/or provide more food for the family, since a large portion of nomads’ livelihoods comes from the home consumption of sheep and yaks and the sale of animals.  This can be fairly easily accomplished by: (1) improving livestock management, especially at lambing; (2) growing hay to feed in winter, especially during later stages of pregnancy and lactation for sheep; (3) fencing winter/spring pasture and deferring grazing on it during the growing season; and (4) improved marketing of animals to reduce number of animals being kept over the winter.

 

For poor nomads with few or no livestock at the current time but who do have grassland allocated to them, a sheep distribution program, which provides adult female sheep (ewes) to nomads can be an excellent means for them to rise out of poverty.  Especially if it is designed so that after a number of years the nomads return a number of sheep so that other poor households can benefit.  Livestock herd projections indicate that a nomad family that is given 50 adult ewes would be able to build their herd up to about 100 ewes in four years, even with giving back 40-50 ewe lambs in the 4th year, and still sell the male animals every year (or a combination of household consumption and sale).  If a sheep distribution program were linked with rangeland development (fencing and improved range management) and forage development (growing of oats for hay to be fed in the winter), the risk of nomad’s losing animals in the winter would be greatly reduced.  Improved road access to what were previously quite remote nomad areas also now allows nomads to take more advantage of markets for livestock. 

 

Tibetan nomads in Maqu County face considerable challenges in adjusting their traditional pastoral production practices to the new rangeland tenure arrangements now in place with the division and allocation of grazing land to households and the general ‘settling-down’ of nomads.  Opportunities for individuals to greatly expand livestock numbers are now limited because herders must balance livestock numbers with the carrying capacity of the rangeland.  Nomads are compelled to become livestock ranchers and to optimize animal productivity on finite amounts of grazing land.  This requires greatly improved management of the rangelands and livestock, rehabilitation of degraded rangeland, more efficient marketing of livestock and livestock products, and, for some nomad households, a move away from livestock production to other cash income-earning activities. 

 

Elements of a Poverty Reduction Strategy in Tibetan Nomad Areas 

The profiles of poverty among Tibetan nomads described above shows the diverse nature of poor Tibetans and that they face many challenges.  In addition to lack of animals and income to meeting basic human needs, many Tibetan nomads also lack basic services such as health and education.  Poor nutrition is also a problem.  Reducing vulnerability, powerlessness, and inequality are critical challenges in Tibetan nomad areas.  A poverty reduction strategy for Tibetan nomads should encompass the main determinants of poverty, promote economic opportunities, facilitate empowerment, reduce vulnerability, and determine exit strategies.

 

Promoting economic opportunities for poor Tibetan nomads.  The main determinant of poverty reduction is a robust rural economy with sustained growth and efficiency.  This requires improving agricultural productivity, fostering non-farm activities, developing rural infrastructure, and expanding markets.   A strategy for poverty reduction for Tibetan nomads should promote rural incomes and employment by fostering economic growth in livestock and non-farm sectors, liberalizing access and removing market distortions, and increasing accessibility to infrastructure, knowledge, and information systems.  Such measures would lead to faster access to and accumulation of productive assets (human, physical, natural, and financial) controlled by the nomads and/or increase returns to those assets.  Public policy choices to increase incomes and assets of Tibetan nomads include:

·        providing greater security for those assets they already possess, e.g., strengthening rights to grassland and improving or preserving adults’ health status;

·        widening market access by Tibetan nomads to productive assets, including land, labor, and financial services;

·        facilitating micro-finance arrangements to promote the accumulation of assets;

·        providing infrastructure, such as roads, electricity, and other local public goods; and

·        accelerating the production and transfer of appropriate new technology for grassland and livestock production.

 

For Tibetan nomad children, the priority is to ensure adequate nutrition, followed by access to health care and education.  These opportunities are directly affected by the existence of well functioning institutions and the efficiency of government expenditure.

 

Facilitating empowerment of Tibetan nomads.  Empowering Tibetan nomads to take more charge of the development that is affecting them is essential for poverty reduction.  Sustainable development in Tibet should encourage a social, legal, and policy framework that enables Tibetan nomads to more effectively influence public decisions that affect them and/or reduce factors that hinder their ability to earn a better livelihood.  Since development activities that affect Tibetan nomads depend on the interaction of political, social, and institutional processes, a poverty reduction strategy should ensure that the political environment is conducive to civic participation, and that government programs are decentralized and transparent.  Actions to facilitate empowerment of poor Tibetan nomads include:

·        improving the functioning of institutions to facilitate economic growth with equity by reducing bureaucratic and social constraints to economic action and upward mobility;

·        laying a political, social, and legal basis for inclusive development by establishing mechanisms for participatory decision-making;

·        creating, sustaining, and integrating competitive markets and related institutions that provide agricultural inputs and outputs;

·        reducing social barriers by removing ethnic and gender bias and encouraging the representation of Tibetan nomads in community, provincial and national organizations;

·        fostering local empowerment and decision-making through decentralization of administrative, fiscal and political structures;

·        strengthening the participation of Tibetan nomads in public service delivery;

·        eliminating biased pricing structures and other policies that negatively affect nomads and the rangeland environment; and

·        increasing public expenditures in nomad areas.

 

Reducing the vulnerability of the poor Tibetan nomads.  Poverty entails not just an inability to guarantee basic needs, but also a vulnerability to unexpected fluctuations both in future real income and access to public services.  Tibetan nomads are exposed to considerable risks that affect their livestock production system and their livelihoods.  Risks are also associated with markets, service delivery, and the very foundations of society and polity.  Many of these risks are highly localized while others are more general.   For Tibetan nomads, natural disasters in the form of severe winter snowstorms poses one of the greatest risks and increases their vulnerability to remaining trapped in poverty.  To address this problem, measures need to be taken to reduce ex ante exposure to risk and improve the ex post capacity of the poor to cope with risk.  Priority actions to reduce ex ante exposure of Tibetan nomads to risks might include:  

·        developing early warning systems for droughts and snowstorms;

·        improving public services, such as roads and health clinics;

·        producing and transferring appropriate range-livestock technology to nomads, which improves livestock productivity; and

·        improving market accessibility for nomads to sell their livestock and livestock products.

 

Possible priority actions to improve ex post capacity to cope with risks could include:

·        facilitating livestock restocking programs to replace animals lost in the disasters.

 

Exit strategies for poor Tibetan nomads. One of the primary goals of a poverty reduction strategy is to promote broad-based economic growth that helps the poor climb out of poverty, but in some cases in Tibet this goal may be difficult to achieve.  One reason is that the natural resource base cannot support the growing human population.  Severe rangeland degradation in some areas is already calling into question the sustainability of current livestock production practices.  In such cases, possible exit strategies for tackling poverty could take the form of migration of some people out of the most degraded areas and establishing social support programs to assist the poor.  In some areas of Tibet, permanent out-migration may be the most cost-effective mechanism for reducing poverty.

 

Effects of Policies and the Economy on Poverty.  Macroeconomic policies and institutional reforms as well as the quality of local governance have a profound affect on poverty in Tibetan nomadic areas.  This is because they affect the rate of economic growth, which is the single most important macroeconomic determinant of poverty.  They also influence the allocation of government funding and shape the type of economic growth.  Steady economic growth creates more jobs and increases incomes, thus helping to reduce poverty.  Growth also increases tax revenues, enabling local governments to allocate more to health and education, which work indirectly to reduce poverty. 

 

Measuring Progress in Reducing Poverty.  It is important to monitor progress in reducing poverty among Tibetan nomads.  Not only is monitoring an effective way to inform others about the state of Tibetan nomad’s well being and encourage debate on development approaches and priorities, but it also helps promote evidence-based policymaking by senior decision-makers.  This allows more feasible poverty reduction goals and targets to be determined for the future.

 

Monitoring requires selecting poverty indicators and setting poverty reduction targets.  Poverty indicators should be reliable, quick and cheap.  It is better to identify a few indicators and measure them well rather than measure a number of indicators poorly.  Indicators should also show the direction of change in tackling poverty.  Once indicators are chosen, a baseline needs to be established to measure future progress. 

 

Pastoral Risk Management for Tibetan Nomads

Many nomads on the Tibetan Plateau in western China are caught in a downward spiral of increasing poverty, frequent risk of livestock loss from severe snowstorms, physical insecurity, and rangeland degradation. With rangelands now divided and allocated to individual houesholds it is also difficult for nomads to greatly increase livestock numbers because of a lack of available grazing land, thus limiting their options to earn more income from increased numbers of animals.  Delivery of public services in Tibetan nomadic areas has improved in recent decades but still lags far behind other parts of China.  Growing numbers of nomads live near towns to engage in trade and to look for work, swelling the ranks of unemployed and increasing stress on social services.  Poorly educated nomads with limited training in skilled trades have difficulty competing for jobs with better-educated and more skilled Han Chinese flocking to towns in search of work.   Many poor  nomads are increasingly marginalized and they particularly suffer when severe winter blizzards hit. 

 

 

 

The devastating effect of severe snowstorms is depicted in Tables 12-15 for Nyerong County, Naqu Prefecture of the Tibetan Autonomous Region.  Nyerong County as a whole lost 24 percent and 20 percent, respectively, of their yak and sheep population during the severe winter of 1997-98.  Sangrong Township was especially hard hit.  Here, as illustrated in Table 13, total livestock population in 1998 was less than half what is was the previous year.  On a household basis, the losses were especially severe with average number of yaks per household dropping from 44 to 18 and sheep declining from 63 to 28 (Table 14).  Certain Administrative Villages within Songrang Township fared came out in especially dire straits after the severe winter losses (Table 15).

 

 

Table   12.   Livestock Data for Nyerong County, 1998.

 

 

End of 1998

Population

Herd Com-position (%)

%

Females

Death Losses in 1998

Death Loss  in %

of total

Offtake

sold & eaten

Offtake in % of total nos.

Yaks

129,189      

  32.8

   53.4

43,880

  23.8

 10,853

   5.9

Sheep

219,105

  55.6

   51.1

63,002

  19.1

 48,386

 14.6

Goats

  38,650

    9.8

   58.5

  8,007

  15.3

   5,549

 10.6

Horse

    6,760

    1.7

   42.2

  1,184

  14.9

          0

 

Total

393,704   

  

 

 

 

 

 

Source: County Records.

 

 

 

Table 13.   Livestock population for Sangrong Township, Nyerong Co.  1996-1998

 

 

   1996

   1997

   1998

Yak

12,653

13,631

  5,670

Sheep

20,461

19,570

  8,826

Goats

  2,848

  2,800

  1,470

Horse

     425

     401

     314

Total

36,387

36,402

16,280

Source: Township Records.

 

 

 

Table   14.  Numbers of class of animals and Sheep Equivalent Units per household and per person in Sangrong Township, Nyerong County for years 1996-1998.

 

 

1996

1997

1998

yaks/household

  40.8

  43.9

  18.1

Sheep/hh

  66.0

  63.1

  28.2

goats/hh

    9.2

    9.0

   4.7

SEUs/hh

285.0

297.9

128.3

SEUs/person

  56.5

  58.8

  25.5

 

Table   15.  Household and livestock data for three nomad villages in Sangrong Twp, in 1996 and 1998.

 

 

Village # 9

Village # 11

Village # 12

 

1996

1998

1996

1998

 1996

1998

households

    24

  26

    25

    27

     30

    30

people

  122

135

  120

  122

   153

  155

yaks

1312

632

1134

  374

 1293

  462

sheep

2483

814

1803

  410

 2290

  791

goats

  210

  70

  194

    69

   369

  132

horses

    28

  18

    39

    23

     61

    36

yak/household

    55

  24

    45

    14

     43

    15

sheep/household

  103

  31

    72

    16

     76

    26

goat/household

      9

    3

      8

      3

     12

      4

SEUs/houshold

  390

159

  314

    91

   313

  114

SEUs/person

    77

  31

    65

    20

     61

    22

Source: Township Records

 

 

 

Are there effective measures to address such problems for Tibetan nomads?  Experience from other nomadic pastoral areas of the world, suggest that more attention to facilitating pastoral risk management could provide beneficial solutions for Tibetan nomadic areas.

 

Pastoral risk management is the process of taking various actions to reduce the chance of nomads losing assets, income, or other aspects of well being.  The four elements of risk management are: (1) asset diversification, (2) income diversification, (3) increased access to information, and (4) increased access to external resources.

 

Why do Tibetan nomads need to improve risk management?  Nomads have grazed livestock on the Tibetan for centuries, but increases in human populations and rangeland degradation in recent decades have created increased pressures.   Nomads have become more vulnerable to external shocks including those from natural disasters and general economic development.  Droughts and snowstorms appear to be more frequent now.   As human populations grow, per capita livestock holdings decrease, poverty increases, and more nomads are marginalized.   Economic diversification in nomadic areas can stimulate sustainable development.  This can help reduce overgrazing and reliance on potentially destructive activities such as collection of medicinal plants, thereby benefiting the environment.   However, opportunities for economic diversification in many Tibetan nomad areas are limited. 

 

Rangeland degradation, poverty and lack of personal empowerment are some of the main problems facing Tibetan nomads in achieving sustainable pastoral production systems and healthy rangelands.  There is a growing need to strengthen nomads’ capacity to manage risk in pastoral livestock production.  A number of programs can be considered

to help improve pastoral risk management for Tibetan nomads, including:

 

·      Early warning systems for predicting incidence of spring droughts and winter snowstorms;

·      Clarification of government institutional roles and responsibilities in droughts and snowstorms;

·      Marketing arrangements for livestock and livestock products, partly to increase offtake before the onset of winter and partly to permit rapid destocking prior drought or severe winter storms;

·      Township level emergency grazing reserves and hay/feed supplies;

·      Capacity-building for herders’ associations to better manage rangelands and livestock; and

·      Rangeland planning at a household or group or village level to develop more sustainable management and use of rangeland resources while improving livestock production and nomads’ livelihood. 

 

Planning for Pastoral Risk Management.  Pastoral risk management involves a four-stage planning process, each with different people/institutions and characteristic activities.  These are described below.

 

Stage 1.  Risk reduction and risk avoidance.  This is the stage of long-term strategies, by herders and by the government, to reduce vulnerability to risk.  Key activities include:

 

Stage 2.  Risk planning.  This includes activities to prepare the herding economy for stress periods such as winter, and for unexpected shocks, such as blizzards.  Key risk planning activities include:

 

Stage 3.  Reacting to risk.  Key tasks once an emergency occurs include:

 

Stage 4.  Recovering from risk.   Important activities to recover from risk include:

 

 

To start to improve pastoral risk management for Tibetan nomads, development projects should seek to help facilitate interventions in the following priority areas:

 

·        Improvements in marketing networks and education to allow more opportunistic diversification of livestock and human capital.  For example, capturing some of the wealth otherwise lost in livestock deaths can help create a dynamic cycle of improved household-level income and savings, rural economic development, and rehabilitation of rangelands with positive feedback for many aspects of the rangeland environment, public service delivery, and human welfare.   

 

·        Improvements in the flow and capture of information to increase efficiency in livestock and livestock product marketing and resource allocation.   Information could pertain to market prices, rainfall and snowfall forecasts, and general educational packages regarding pastoral risk management planning through the agricultural extension system, schools and monasteries.

 

·        Facilitation of conflict resolution and problem solving regarding rangeland tenure and the division and allocation of rangelands.

 

·        Comparative evaluation of development investment options for various types of infrastructure, institutions, or programs to improve pastoral risk management throughout the Tibetan Plateau.

 

 

Conclusion

In Tibet, the survival of nomadic pastoralism as a viable economic activity is a crucial ingredient for sustainable development.  However, livestock production cannot survive without the rangeland resources.  It is of utmost importance, therefore, to tackle the root causes of rangeland degradation and the need for development interventions to reverse the insidious processes which threaten not only the local landscape but the regional environment and the very existence of millions of people.



[1] A sheep unit is one adult female sheep.  One yak equals 5 sheep units and one horse equals 6 sheep units.  It is calculated that one sheep unit requires 4 kg of hay per day.  

[2] Poor are usually defined as persons with an average per capita annual income of less than RMB 700.  In terms of animal numbers, about 25 Sheep Units per person is the generally accepted break-off point for poverty in Tibetan nomad areas.  Families with less than 25 Sheep Units would not be able to meet their basic needs.  In other words, a person would need at least 25 sheep or 5 yaks to meet their basic needs.