Pastoralist Decision-Making on the Tibetan Plateau
Despite a growing body of research about rangeland degradation and the effects of policies implemented to address it on the Tibetan Plateau, little in-depth research has been conducted on how pastoralists make decisions. Based on qualitative research in Gouli Township, Qinghai province, China, we analyze the context in which Tibetan herders make decisions, and their decisions about livestock and pastures. We refute three fundamental assumptions upon which current policy is premised: that pastoralists aim to increase livestock numbers without limit; that, blindly following tradition, they do not actively manage livestock and rangelands; and that they lack environmental knowledge. We demonstrate that pastoralists carefully assess limits to livestock holdings based on land and labor availability; that they increasingly manage their livestock and rangelands through contracting; and that herding knowledge is a form of embodied practical skill. We further discuss points of convergence and contradiction between herders’ observations and results of a vegetation analysis.
KeywordsTibet Pastoralism Rangeland condition Livestock management Environmental knowledge
We thank Pemabum for field assistance and the many herders in Gouli who patiently answered our questions over a number of years.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
This study was funded by the US National Science Foundation, Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems Program, Award 0815441.
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
- Badingquiying, Smith, A. T., Senko J., and Siladan M. (2016). Plateau pika Ochotona curzoniae poisoning campaign reduces carnivore abundance in southern Qinghai, China. Mammal Study 41(1): 1–8.Google Scholar
- Bauer K., and Nyima Y. (2010). Laws and regulations impacting the enclosure movement on the Tibetan plateau of China. Himalaya 30(1–2): 23–38.Google Scholar
- Berkes F., and Berkes M. K. (2009). Ecological complexity, fuzzy logic, and holism in indigenous knowledge. Futures 41: 6–12.Google Scholar
- Bessho Y. (2015). Migration for ecological preservation? Tibetan herders’ decision making process in the eco-migration policy of Golok Tibetan autonomous prefecture (Qinghai province, PRC). Nomadic Peoples 19(2): 189–208.Google Scholar
- Cao J.J., Holden N. M., Lü X.T., and Du G. (2011a). The effect of grazing on plant species richness on the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau. Grass and Forage Science 66(3): 333–336.Google Scholar
- Cao J.J., Xiong, Y.-C., Sun J., Xiong W.-F., and Du G.-Z. (2011b). Differential benefits of multi- and single-household grassland management patterns in the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau of China. Human Ecology 39(2): 217–227.Google Scholar
- Cao J.J., Yeh E. T., Holden N. M., Yang Y.Y., and Du, G.Z. (2013). The effects of enclosures and land-use rights contracts on grassland degradation on the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau. Journal of Arid Environments 97: 3–8.Google Scholar
- Doran L., Low A., and Kemp R. (1979). Cattle as a store of wealth in Swaziland: implications for livestock development and overgrazing in Eastern and Southern Africa. American Journal of Agricultural Economics 61: 41–47.Google Scholar
- Du M., Yonemura S., Zhang X., He Y., Liu J., and Kawashima S. (2012). Climatic warming due to overgrazing on the Tibetan plateau. Journal of Arid Land Studies (Shamuo yanjiu) 22(1): 119–122.Google Scholar
- Gaerrang (2011). The alternative to development on the Tibetan plateau: preliminary research on the anti-slaughter movement. Revue d'Etudes Tibetaines 21: 31–43.Google Scholar
- Gayley H. (2013). Reimagining Buddhist ethics on the Tibetan plateau. Journal of Buddhist Ethics 20: 247–286.Google Scholar
- Gayley H. (2016). Controversy over Buddhist ethical reform: a secular critique of clerical authority in the Tibetan blogosphere. Himalaya: the Journal of the Association for Nepal and Himalayan Studies 36(1): 22–43.Google Scholar
- Gongbuzeren, Li Y., and Li W. (2015). China's rangeland management policy debates: what have we learned? Rangeland Ecology & Management 68: 305–314.Google Scholar
- Harris R. B., Wang W., Badinqiuying, Smith, A. T., and Bedunah D. J. (2015). Herbivory and competition of Tibetan steppe vegetation in winter pasture: effects of livestock exclosure and plateau pika reduction. PLoS One 10. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0132897.
- Harris R. B., Samberg L. H., Yeh E. T., Smith A. T., Wang W., Wang J., Gaerrang, and Bedunah D. (2016). Rangeland responses to pastoralists’ grazing management on a Tibetan steppe grassland, Qinghai Province, China, The Rangeland Journal. 38(1): 1-15. doi: 10.1071/RJ150410.
- Kabzung, and Yeh E. T. (2016). Slaughter renunciation in Tibetan pastoral areas: Buddhism, neoliberalism and the ironies of alternative development. In Rojas C., and Litzinger R. (eds.), Ghost Protocol: Development and Displacement in Global China, Duke University Press, Durham, N.C., pp. 109–130.Google Scholar
- Levine N. (2015). Transforming inequality: Eastern Tibetan pastoralists from 1955 to the present. Nomadic Peoples 19(2): 164–188.Google Scholar
- Popke J. (2016). Researching the hybrid geographies of climate change: reflections from the field. Area 48(1): 2–6.Google Scholar
- Sun J., Cheng G. W., and Li W. P. (2013). Meta-analysis of relationships between environmental factors and aboveground biomass in the alpine grassland on the Tibetan plateau. Biogeosciences 10: 1707–1715.Google Scholar
- Wang J., Zhang X., Chen B., Shi P., Zhang J., Shen Z., Tao J., and Wu J. (2013). Causes and restoration of degraded alpine grassland in Northern Tibet Journal of Resources and Ecology 4(1): 43–49.Google Scholar
- Wei Y., and Chen Q. (2001). Grassland classification and the evaluation of grazing capacity in Naqu Prefecture, Tibet Autonomous Region, China. New Zealand Journal of Agricultural Research 44: 253–258.Google Scholar
- Williams D. M. (2002). Beyond great walls: environment, identity and development on the Chinese grasslands, Stanford University Press, Stanford.Google Scholar
- Yeh E. T. (2014). Reverse environmentalism: contemporary articulations of Tibetan Buddhism, culture, and environmental protection. In: Van der Veer P, Miller J, Yu D.S., (eds.), Religious Diversity and Ecological Sustainability in China. Routledge, New York, pp. 194–218.Google Scholar
- Yeh E. T., and Gaerrang. (2011). Tibetan pastoralism in neoliberalising China: continuity and change in Gouli. Area 43(2): 165–172.Google Scholar
- Yundannima (2012). From 'Retire livestock, restore rangeland' to the compensation for ecological services: state interventions into rangeland ecosystems and pastoralism in Tibet. PhD dissertation. University of Colorado Boulder.Google Scholar