The myth of community and sustainable grassland management in China

Abstract

Within national and international domestic academic circles, there are increasing calls for enhanced involvement of communities in formulating and implementing grassland management arrangements. In contrast to the current national policy of contracting grasslands to households, many scholars call for support for collective grassland use arrangements. Several reasons are given for increased recognition and support for community-based management of grasslands, including lower costs of exclusion and dispute resolution, economies of scale in herding and marketing, mitigation of environmental risk, and ensuring equitable access to grassland resources. One conclusion from this literature is that devolving authority for designing and implementing grassland management systems to communities would lead to more sustainable grassland use, a position that I term as the ‘myth of community.’ This paper presents the results of a study of grazing systems in two communities in Hongyuan County, Sichuan Province. Each community uses its grasslands collectively. However, the study found evidence of severe overgrazing, especially in winter pastures, suggesting that community-based management of grasslands is not necessarily sustainable. The paper discusses three potential policy innovations required to support sustainable grazing systems in China’s grassland areas: overcoming constraints in labor and land markets, and payments for environmental services that reward sustainable stocking levels.

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Correspondence to Andreas Wilkes.

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Wilkes, A., Tan, J. & Mandula The myth of community and sustainable grassland management in China. Front. Earth Sci. China 4, 59–66 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11707-010-0009-5

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Keywords

  • community
  • grassland management
  • sustainable development