Contemporary changes to herding systems in China and effects on pasture quality: a case study in Gansu Province, 2000–2012

  • Gregory VeeckEmail author
  • Zhou LiEmail author
  • Fawen Yu
  • Charles Emerson


Post-2000 efforts to protect China’s pastoral areas are distinct from earlier efforts in that funding for the most recent round of policies and programs is commensurate with the task. Even with appropriate funding, however, effective methods of mitigating pasture degradation are widely disputed. The most controversial of the current policies include herding family resettlement, pasture fallow programs (herding “bans”), and the promotion of confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Ideally, the policies are intended to protect grassland ecological systems while assuring acceptable revenues to affected families and regions. This article presents a case study of 49 townships in three counties in central Gansu investigating the interactions among changes in mean interpolated annual precipitation and livestock density and pasture quality. Pasture quality is assessed using mean township values of the enhanced vegetation index (EVI) from 2000 to 2012 obtained by the MODerate-resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensor of the Terra satellite. The research joins remotely sensed environmental data, interpolated annual precipitation estimates, and livestock counts at the township scale for the years from 2000 to 2012 but is also informed by in-depth interviews with herding families and husbandry officials. Joining biophysical analyses of changes in pasture with archived data and in-depth interviews, we adopt a synthetic approach to determine changes to pasture quality under post-2000 policy interventions and possible reasons for these changes. Pasture quality has improved as CAFO livestock have increased; however, herders and local officials report that some of the new policies and programs may have important unanticipated negative impacts related to pasture ecology and water consumption.


China Environmental policies Grassland management Husbandry Gansu Rural China EVI 



The work was supported by the National Geographic Research Fund under Grant # 9336-13 and the Western Michigan University Faculty Research and Creative Activities Award under Grant # W2013-035.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of GeographyWestern Michigan UniversityKalamazooUSA
  2. 2.The Rural Development InstituteChinese Academy of Social SciencesBeijingChina

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