This paper examines the effect of a state-led sedentarization scheme on pastoralist adaptation in northern Xinjiang, China. Drawing on surveys and semi-structured interviews with 159 Kazak pastoral households, our results indicate that socio-environmental challenges made extensive herding more tenuous but less profitable. Consequently, certain pastoralists voluntarily adopted sedentarization under state facilitation, although this process was accompanied with declines in household income and asset holdings. Our findings suggest that pastoralists were subject to the combined effects of institutional push and socio-environmental risks, making sedentarization seemingly the only viable choice. We thus argue that pastoral sedentarization in northern Xinjiang represents a constrained adaptation strategy. Future policy should build on pastoralists’ motivation to sedentarize and seek their knowledge to facilitate adaptive development in the pastoral regions.
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Land ownership in this study does not mean that households privately own the land, but rather that they have 50 years’ land tenure. According to the Chinese land law, all lands in China are owned by the state, while individuals only have the right to use them. Land sales are prohibited, but the right to use land can be transferred in the form of rent and bequest.
In 2010, the price was about 1100 yuan for a lamb, 2500 yuan for a calf, and 5000 yuan for a horse. The average income from one mu of crop field is 800 yuan.
In 2010, the price for herding one cattle is 50 yuan/month, the price for herding a sheep/goat is 8 yuan/month.
The hukou is a record in the system of household registration in China.
These two groups of households shared substantial similarities before sedentarization. According to respondents’ recall during our interviews, both groups were capable to purchase a subsidized house because they had a relatively large number of livestock. They also had similar expectations from sedentarization, hoping that by selling part of their livestock, they can buy a house and shift into non-pastoral livelihoods that will allow them to avoid the risks associated with extensive herding.
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This study was funded by the Towards Sustainability Foundation, the Sigma Xi Grant at Cornell University, and the Summer Fellowship from Department of Geography, Environment and Society at the University of Minnesota. We appreciate the Kazak pastoralists who generously shared their knowledge with us. We also thank Christopher Barrett, Kathleen Collins, Vinay Gidwani, Karim-Aly Kassam, Stephen Morreale, Abdi Samatar, Patrick Sullivan, and Xinshi Zhang for their support and advice on our research, as well as the two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments.
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
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Liao, C., Fei, D. Sedentarization as Constrained Adaptation: Evidence from Pastoral Regions in Far Northwestern China. Hum Ecol 45, 23–35 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10745-016-9872-3