China’s desertification policy and urbanization of Tibetan nomads.

image: jim mcgill photography

The Chinese government is building 10’s of 1000’s of these homes for the Nomad Tibetans because it has been deemed that the Nomadic Herdsman and their Yaks are impacting the environment, causing desertification.

Is this the future for the Nomadic peoples, no yards and no place for livestock or a garden? There are very few employment opportunities at this “re-settlement” village which is 9800 feet above sea level on the Tibetan plateau and 75 miles from the nearest place that could be called a town; a 3 day commute for people that do not own a vehicle.

China has adopted new legislation intended to control and ultimately reverse the worsening trend of desertification in the country, which currently claims about 2,500 square kilometres a year. The new law:

* States that land occupants have a duty not only to prevent desertification but also to restore areas that have already become desert;

* Promises unspecified preferential policies, tax breaks, subsidies and technical support to offset the cost of this unfunded mandate;

* Creates a new class of protected areas off-limits to development and calls for farmers and herders to be removed from those areas; and

* Authorizes local governments to grant land-use rights of up to 70 years to desertified areas if the landholder promises to undertake restoration efforts.

Desertification in China has become a big issue in Beijing over recent years as sandstorms have struck the city with increasing frequency and intensity.

China’s Environment and Resources Committee Chairman (and former Environment Minister) Qu Geping, has stated that climate change and three consecutive years of drought were partly responsible for the storms, but that their principal cause was irrational human activity and lax enforcement of ecological protection laws.

All together, according to official sources, about 20,000 square kilometres of Chinese land (the size of Massachusetts) is being degraded each year due to desertification, soil erosion, salinization and other factors. Since China is attempting to feed a fifth of the world’s people on one-fifteenth of its arable land, this is not an issue the authorities can afford to ignore.

China’s favoured option for controlling desertification and wind erosion has been to plant trees, even in arid zones where it may be inappropriate. In many cases, planting grasses and shrubs would be far more effective.

image: tree planting near Xilinhot as part of Central-Government Funded effort to control dust storms

There are according to a report from the US Embassy in China many complex reasons as to why desertification is on the increase in China. Take a look a their report here.

Clearly one of the consequences is the end of nomadic life. These re-housed rural folk may instead end up drifting towards the outskirts of China’s mega-cities. It may take a generation but their children’s lives will be changed forever.

This entry was posted in China, Desertification, Development, Extreme weather, Food & Agriculture, Rural communities, Sustainablity and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to China’s desertification policy and urbanization of Tibetan nomads.

  1. earthpal says:

    How ironic is that? They’re going to stop them from living natural lives – free from the man-made rules of convention and independant of highly polluting modern means and they’re going to “urbanise” them hence increase said energy demands and so on.

    Methinks this is just another Chinese government assault on the Tibetans and their way of life.

    Methinks also, it is Chinese policy that has caused much of Tibet’s environmental problems…..

  2. matt says:

    Blimey, that link is depressing.

    The Chinese are systematically tearing Tibet apart aren’t they. I see the same Forestry dept that is supposed to spearhead the tree planting campaign is responsible for felling huge areas of forest without replanting in the past and therefore increasing desertification.

    But then there’s the uranium mining and all the rest. This link has news of a big drive during 2008 for the resettlement of Tibetan herders.

    The Chinese don’t take kindly to dissent do they. Banksy would be proud of these boys;

  3. earthpal says:

    Thanks for the links Matt. Interesting.

    Yes, the Chinese government’s record of violating human rights is pretty grim and the Tibetans are particularly victimised. What are they scared of, I wonder.

  4. matt says:

    The leaders suffer from small penis syndrome apparently.

    But seriously, I think they are protecting the lining of their pockets. Corruption in China is rife, so much so that the head of the Shanghai economic zone was recently arrested and made an example of said corruption.

    As long as China avoids democracy the common person will be trampled upon and the environment will suffer immensely. The Chinese government are afraid of peasant revolt and crush it quickly but, small revolts are happening across China regularly, particularly over land rights.

    The push to take peasants off their land and transfer them into towns & cities is seen as a pragmatic way by the govt to narrow the income gap between richer urbanites and country folk. That is probably the official line. The govt is trying to head off peasant revolt. They have always been afraid of the peasant!

    Unofficially, the leaders probably have no respect for the peasants and simply want their land for development and further lining of their pockets. In walks Gordon Brown this week to extol the virtues of doing business with the Chinese … thereby further lining the pockets ….

  5. earthpal says:

    Good analysis Matt. And China also wants to appear to be doing something about the environment so it’s convenient for them to blame the Tibetan nomads for the desertification. Overgrazing is adding to the problem but maybe it’s because the Chinese are demanding more and more meat.

    The problem with trying to urbanise these people is that they are often uneducated and don’t speak Chinese so their job prospects are limited which will further deepen the wealth divide.

  6. matt says:

    Good point about higher meat consumption. I guess we are also talking population limits here too. Nature can only support so many of us!

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  8. ClareSnow says:

    Hi Matt,

    I was just watching “The Cave of the Yellow Dog” the other day. Is that Tibet? I wasn’t paying enough attention, just taking in the amazing scenery. Their nomadic life is incredible. As hard as their lives are, it’s awful that the govt forces them to change their whole existence.

    Thank you for telling me the The Coffee House is still going. I have lots of posts to get through. I haven’t been here since you got the new url. I like these more in-depth posts. I went to Change Alley the other day for the first time this year. The new layout confused me for a moment, but now I’ve added both urls to my list to visit – more time wasted when i should be working 🙂

    And congrats to earthpal on her promotion.


  9. matt says:

    Thanks Clare. Great to be back here and have you back on board too. 🙂

  10. earthpal says:

    Thanks Clare.

    Did you enjoy The Cave of the Yellow Dog? I hear it is a lovely film. I just looked it up and it is about a Mongolian family. From what I can tell, Mongolia and Tibet have very similar cultures and the same nomadic lifestyles.

  11. Pingback: “Everyone dies but No-one is Dead” ~ The Cave of the Yellow Dog « Earthpal

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