Daniel Miller


Paper Prepared for the Tibet Development Symposium

May 4-6, 2001

Brandeis University




Background on Rural Development in China

In recent decades, China achieved remarkable agricultural and rural growth, greatly reduced poverty, and significantly addressed environmental and natural resource degradation issues.  Reforms in the rural areas have been deliberate, gradual, and quite effective as the rural sector has moved away from a planned economy.  Total agricultural output grew at an annual rate of 4.2 percent between 1985 and 1997 and the number of people living in absolute poverty has dropped to about 11.5 percent or some 106 million people (World Bank 2000).  


China’s livestock sector has experienced especially strong growth and rapid expansion during the past two decades and the livestock sub-sector has consistently outperformed the agricultural sector as a whole.  Average annual economic growth rates close to ten percent, combined with specific efforts to diversity regionally and within the sub-sector have contributed significantly to raise farmers’ and herders’ incomes and has improved the availability and variety of food and livestock products for local and export markets (World Bank 1999).   Replicating these accomplishments and improving sustainability in the future, however, will be more difficult as much of the potential gains from the transition reforms have been achieved and weak demand has now slowed growth.  Future productivity gains in the agricultural sector will have to come from greater efficiencies of production, stimulated by market forces, and improved productivity of scarce natural resources through improved natural resource management and introduction of new technology.


Economic development of the rural-agricultural sector will continue to depend on a healthy urban-industrial sector to create employment and to absorb rural and agricultural labor; thereby enabling the remaining farmers and herders access to additional crop land and rangeland.  Sustained agricultural development will require the promotion of more dynamic and effective rural institutions related to fiscal and financial system, improved land tenure systems with marketable land-use rights, and improved incentives for investing in agriculture and livestock development.  Agricultural development will also require further liberalization of production, pricing and marketing policies and promotion of a market environment and better targeted investments in infrastructure and public services.  Productivity gains in livestock production in the pastoral areas and in the livestock product marketing and processing sectors would improve the competitiveness of the pastoral livestock sector.  Such general productivity growth would also result in more rapid increases in urban and rural incomes and increased demand for livestock products, such as mutton and yak meat.


Livestock Development in Tibetan Pastoral Areas

Traditional livestock production and grazing management practices throughout much of the Tibetan pastoral region of western China have been greatly altered in the past several decades as the nomadic way of life has been transformed to one more oriented toward a market economy.  In recent decades, official policies have advocated increased livestock off-take, which has been promoted through privatization of herds and grazing land, sedentarization of the nomads, intensive grazing management strategies, and introduction of rain-fed farming techniques for growing forage and fodder.  Many of these developments were responses to political and economic objectives but, in many cases, they have conflicted with the goal of maintaining grassland ecosystem stability.


Livestock production is one of the few major industries upon which economic development of the pastoral areas in western China can be built. There is growing awareness among policy-makers in Beijing that the rangelands and the animal husbandry related industries, which are based on the rangeland resources, are under serious threat.  There is also concern with the lack of economic development that has taken place in the pastoral areas of western China and the fact that minority pastoralists are some of the poorest people in china.  Evidence of this is the development of the Great Western Development Plan that will target investments in the western provinces and autonomous regions, including Tibet.  The strategy has two main objectives: (i) to reduce economic disparities between the western and other regions; and (ii) to ensure sustainable natural resource management in the western provinces.


In addition to the strategic and political significance of the pastoral areas of western China, the changing food consumption patterns in China have sparked new interest in livestock production from the Tibetan rangelands.  Rapidly increasing consumer demand for all kinds of meat is forcing a reassessment of priorities in the Chinese animal husbandry sub-sector.  Concern with the threat to human food grain supplies with the increase in demand for grain-based feedstuffs to meet expanding poultry, pig, beef and milk production from dairy cattle is now resulting in greater attention being given to raising grazing animals, such as sheep and yaks on the Tibetan Plateau.  In addition, dietary considerations suggest that lean meat from grass-fed animals is more nutritionally advantageous than meat from animals fattened on grain.


Another important factor contributing to the growing interest in the pastoral areas of western China is the growing market for wool-based fabrics in China.  With economic development and rise in incomes, not only do Chinese want to eat more meat but they also want to purchase better quality garments, carpets, and blankets made from wool and cashmere.  Therefore, the demand of textile manufacturers for raw wool and cashmere is rapidly expanding.  Policy-makers in Beijing are of the opinion that the small ruminant animal husbandry industry in the pastoral areas should be expanded not only to take advantage of the increased marketing opportunities for meat and wool/cashmere but also to reduce the need to import wool from other countries.


Major Development Issues in Tibetan Nomadic Pastoral Areas

In the pastoral region in the western part of China, such as the Tibetan nomadic pastoral areas, the challenges for agricultural development are daunting.  Here, despite the political and strategic importance of the region, the record of achievement in rural growth has not been very good and overall economic productivity is on the decline due to the continued degradation of the grasslands.  Real incomes in the pastoral areas have not been increasing at anything like the rates being experienced in the wider agricultural economy in China.  Some of the poorest people in China remain the minority farmers and herders in the pastoral areas of the Tibetan Plateau, who are struggling to make a living in a harsh environment where animal husbandry is one of the few options they have.  Poverty is pervasive in the pastoral region and has inhibited livestock development and the modernization of marketing systems for products such as wool and meat as well as the ability of the region to grasp new opportunities. 


Stimulating agricultural growth, reducing poverty and managing the environment are monumental tasks in the pastoral areas on the Tibetan Plateau.  Here, complex interactive issues related to the environment, technology, policies and human population growth greatly hamper sustainable development.  There is a vicious cycle of increasing human populations leading to pressure to convert rangelands to cropland and to increase livestock stocking rates to maintain rural incomes.  This leads to rangeland degradation, reducing the capacity of the pastoral areas to support livestock and the human populations that rely on them.  Rangeland degradation is an increasing problem in many areas on the Tibetan Plateau, calling into question their sustainability under current use.  Furthermore, much of the economic growth and inappropriate development policies have contributed to unsustainable use of natural resources and severe degradation of the rangelands.  Yet, animal husbandry will remain the major source of livelihoods and real economic growth in the Tibetan pastoral areas in the foreseeable future, since there are major limitations on opportunities for non-farm enterprises. 


The key issues for sustainable development in the pastoral areas of the Tibetan Plateau are:

·        widespread poverty;

·        rangeland degradation;

·        unsustainable livestock production practices;

·        poor market development; and

·        lack of community participation in the development process.


Widespread poverty.  Despite the remarkable agricultural and rural growth China has experienced in recent decades, poverty continues to be a serious problem.  China still has more than 100 million rural absolute poor, and in most cases this poverty is both serious and difficult to address.  Most of the rural poor are now clustered in resource poor areas, and comprise entire communities located mostly in the mountainous areas of western China.  Poverty is caused by many factors, among them are the marginal environment which precludes productive crop-based agriculture, degradation of the natural resources,  remote markets, little diversification, and limited education.  Although the poor have land use rights, in most cases, the land is of such low quality for crops or livestock that it is difficult to even achieve subsistence levels of production.  Poverty households are further disadvantaged by high dependency ratios, ill-health, and illiteracy.  Minority peoples make up a highly disproportionate share of the rural poor. 


Some of the poorest people in China remain the minority herders of Tibet, who are struggling to eke out a living in a harsh environment where animal husbandry is one of the few options they have.  Tibet has the lowest Human Development Index rating among China’s provinces and regions (0.39 with no other region or province below 0.50).  On a purchasing power parity basis, the per capita income in Tibet is about half the average of China.  The proportion of the rural population living below the poverty line in Naqu Prefecture of Tibet, which was hit hard by a severe winter in 1997/1998, is about 40 percent.  Widespread poverty in the nomadic areas of Tibet has also inhibited livestock development and the modernization of marketing systems for products such as wool and mutton as well as the ability of the nomadic areas to grasp new economic opportunities.


A recent World Bank report on rural poverty in China concludes that the key issue related to poverty reduction is not allocating more funding, but the more efficient and effective use of available resources.  Findings from the study also indicate that both the problems and the development opportunities facing the western mountain areas have been underestimated, largely because of a lack of an appropriate framework to develop local strategies and programs.   The widespread poverty in Tibet, and especially the nomadic areas, suggest that efforts should be expanded and improved to ensure that the gains of economic and rural growth are more widely shared among the poor, nomadic population. 


Rangeland degradation.  Rangeland degradation is a serious problem and has severe implications for future economic growth and regional stability in China.  Large areas of rangeland in China are degraded, calling into question their sustainability under current use.  About 34 percent of China’s rangelands are degraded and about 90 percent are degraded to some degree.  The total area of degraded rangeland almost doubled between 1989 and 1997, with a notable acceleration in the middle to late 1990s.  In the Tibetan Autonomous Region, it has been estimated that about 12 million hectares of rangeland is degraded, or 15 percent of the total rangeland area.  The area of Tibet with the largest amount of degraded range is Naqu Prefecture with 4.8 million hectares, about 40 percent of the total degraded range in the TAR.  It is estimated that about 684,853 hectares are badly degraded or desertified, and that this category of pastureland is increasing by as much as 5 percent annually.


To some extent the degradation in Tibet may be due to global warming and general desiccation that appears to be taking place, resulting in the formation of very substantial and widespread “black beach” areas.  To an extent, social and economic development processes may contribute to changed nomadic animal husbandry production systems and practices, including increased settlement and use of fencing, which may contribute to overgrazing and pasture degradation. Other factors such as the widespread poisoning of the plateau pika, (Ochotona spp.) because of their substantial density and consumption of forage required by domestic livestock, may upset the normal functioning and sustainability of the Tibet Plateau rangeland ecosystem.


Rangeland degradation is caused by many complex factors, including human intervention, particularly the expansion of agriculture, overgrazing by livestock, collection of shrubs and sod for fuel, and harvesting of medicinal plants, as well as natural factors such as infestation by rodents and insects and changing climatic factors.  However, the most fundamental cause has been inappropriate government policies relating to the pastoral areas.  Policies have directly and indirectly caused much of the grassland degradation and its continuation.  Policies are largely production oriented and set livestock production targets for pastoral areas which were too ambitious for the carrying capacity of the rangelands.  The policy of increased grain production and self-sufficiency, has also been a driving force behind grassland reclamation and degradation.  Policy-induced market distortions encouraged practices which have led to greater rangeland degradation than might otherwise have been the case.  For example, the lack of premiums for good quality wool encourages herders to aim for quantity instead of quality.  Also wool is sold on a weight basis instead of a quality basis.  These examples demonstrate the subtle but all important linkages between economic/agricultural development policy and rangeland degradation.


Both central and provincial governments have been slow to address rangeland degradation and, in many instances, ineffectual in tackling the enormity of the problem.  For example, while significant effort has been spent on determining the extent of degradation, little analysis has been undertaken of the policy/institutional framework within which the widespread degradation problem has emerged.  For the most part, rangeland degradation is widely perceived as a technical problem for which there are technical answers.  Traditional livestock production systems in the pastoral areas are also poorly understood which hinders adoption of more participatory approaches to development.    Furthermore, the range-livestock sector has always received a disproportionally small share of the budgetary resources for agriculture, despite the importance of the pastoral areas and the widespread degradation.   Consequently, at the national level and even in many of the pastoral provinces, limited resources have been directed towards pastoral livestock production. 


Unsustainable livestock production practices.  The mis-management of livestock and inappropriate animal husbandry practices are major factors in the degradation of the rangelands.  This is due to the fact that many rangelands, especially in the agro-pastoral valleys of Central Tibet, are overstocked and poor grazing management practices, especially in the spring/early summer, impede vegetation growth.  The present livestock production system in much of the pastoral area can only support low levels of production.  Current livestock production practices result in low reproductive rates, substantial weight loss over winter which must be regained each spring and summer, and marketing of animals for meat at an advanced age.  For sheep, poor nutrition over winter also results in poor quality wool and high levels of mortality in lambs.   While many of these practices were sustainable in the past, the increasing human population in many areas is placing additional stress on rangeland resources and many of the pastoral production practices are no longer sustainable.


The pastoral areas of the Tibetan Plateau, are frequently affected by severe winter snowstorms, often resulting in disastrous loss of livestock and serious hardships to nomads.  The government and donors respond to these “disasters” with relief and, in some instances, with restocking but greater attention needs to be given to long-term pastoral risk management in the pastoral areas.   Given the seriousness of the problems related to livestock production in 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.


Poor market development.  China’s strategy for livestock development in the pastoral areas has concentrated on livestock breeding, but little attention has been paid to marketing of livestock and livestock products.  The lack of a well functioning, efficient marketing system for livestock and livestock products is a major issue to the development of the pastoral areas.  Major problems that hinder the development of efficient markets include (1) insufficient market knowledge and market studies; (2) inadequate market information; (3) limited awareness of markets by farmers/herders; (4) a weak extension system that focuses on yield potential rather than profitability for farmers/herders; (5) limited marketing options due to lack of storage, transport, grading and other facilities; and (6) a competitive imbalance between producers and buyers of livestock products.  The absence of product differentiation and weak incentives for quality improvement to meet evolving market demand are also key problems.   Given the deficiencies in the market system and the growing demand for meat and wool produced in the pastoral areas, further improvements in the marketing arrangements and processing for wool and meat is an essential prerequisite for the rapid adoption of improved livestock production and grazing management practices.


Lack of community participation.  Participation by local people in the planning and implementation of pastoral development programs remains weak.  A top-down approach still prevails, stemming from the attitude that the government knows best what is good for herders.  Frequently, inadequate consultation with herders, bureaucracy, poor understanding of local needs and constraints impede herders from participating in decisions and render development programs ineffective and unsustainable.  In the pastoral areas, the varied social and cultural differences of the various ethnic beneficiary  groups is a strong argument for pursuing participatory approaches in order to enable access and more equitable distribution of potential development benefits.  



Government Strategy and Remedies for Addressing Pastoral Issues

Rangeland degradation is triggered by inappropriate policies and human interventions (agriculture expansion, overgrazing by livestock, collection of shrubs and sod for fuel, and harvesting of medicinal plants), as well as natural factors (such as infestation by rodents and insects and changing climatic factors).  However, the most fundamental cause has been inappropriate government policies relating to the pastoral areas.  Examples of these include high grain and livestock production targets for pastoral areas that are largely production oriented and which stretched and exceeded the carrying capacity of the grasslands.    Policy-induced market distortions encouraged opening up markets without grading to enable premiums for good quality wool and cashmere encouraged herders to aim for quantity instead of quality, putting more pressure on already overgrazed grasslands.


Both central and provincial governments have been slow, and often ineffectual, in addressing the problems of grassland degradation.  Grassland degradation is widely perceived as a technical problem for which there are technical solutions.  While significant effort has been spent on determining the extent of grassland degradation, relatively little work has been undertaken on the policy/institutional framework within which degradation has occurred.   Development in the pastoral areas has emphasized economic growth at almost any cost with insufficient attention paid to promoting efficiency and grassland ecosystem sustainability.  Much effort has been directed towards maximizing productivity livestock production rather than trying to understand the carrying capacity of the grassland ecosystem and how to sustain pastoral production in an environmentally and socially sensitive way.  Lack of knowledge about traditional livestock production systems in the pastoral areas also hinders adoption of more participatory approaches to pastoral development.  With the poor recognition of its problems and potential, the grassland sub-sector has always received a disproportionately small share of the budgetary resources for agriculture. 


In the past, policies for developing the pastoral areas emphasized economic growth at almost any cost with insufficient attention paid to promoting efficiency and rangeland ecosystem sustainability.  In recent years, rehabilitation of degraded rangelands has become an important feature of national programs, but the focus is almost entirely on investment in “technical fixes” and/or “quick fixes” with little attention paid to the underlying social and administrative issues which are often at the heart of the grassland degradation problem.


China is also facing a dilemma regarding the effective privatization of land tenure in the context of its pastoral areas.  A concerted effort is now underway to establish clearly defined individual private property rights to land by allocating grassland to individual 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.














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.



Yaks sold

Per family

Yaks eaten

Per family

Sheep sold  per family

Sheep eaten per family

Goats sold per family

Goats eaten per family















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.



Sheep wool


Goat cashmere


Yak cashmere


Yak sold

Per family

Sheep sold

Per family

Goat sold per family


30.8 jin

1.45 jin

11.86 jin




Value in RMB

@3 = 92.4

@70 = 101.5

@10 = 118.6




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. 




% 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


















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.



Total yak


Offtake & %

Total sheep

Sheep offtake & %

Total goat


Offtake & %



1,742   (8.4)


9,622 (38.4)


1,958 (23.4)



1,048   (8.0)


3,952 (19.0)


   617  (10.7)

Source: Township Records, 1999.



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




Sold &   %


Eaten &  %


Sold & %


Eaten & %


Sold & %


Eaten & %


320        (18)

1,422   (82)

2,598     (27)

7,024     (73)

81           (4)

1,875     (96)


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.











































Source: Township Records, 2000


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











































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.



Total families

Poor families

% of total families

























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.






Total Rangeland


Available Range

(mu) and %






233,623      (93) 






240,761      (84)






  92,146      (81)






202,394      (82)









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.





Total Value


Sold 100 sheep




Sold 10 yaks




Sold 400 jin sheep wool




Sold 80  jin  yak wool




Sold 120 jin yak butter




Sold caterpillar fungus




Fees from fungus collectors










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


Herd Com-position (%)



Death Losses in 1998

Death Loss  in %

of total


sold & eaten

Offtake in % of total nos.









































Source: County Records.




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


























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.



























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



Village # 9

Village # 11

Village # 12





















































































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.




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.