Constraints of grassland science, pastoral management and policy in Northern China

James Taylor (The University of Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia)

International Journal of Development Issues

ISSN: 1446-8956

Publication date: 14 September 2012



The purpose of this paper is to discuss some of the implications of policies, practices and new “non‐equilibrium” management approaches in mobile grassland management.


The author takes an actor‐oriented perspective on the narrative of land‐use practices, notional sustainable stocking rates and the problematic of state policy interventions in local context. The paper is based on two years in the field on a bilateral aid‐funded grassland management project at Xing'an League, Inner Mongolia and follow‐up among selected informants.


The constitution of grasslands “degradation” is in fact contested by resource users. Most grassland scientists, Party and Government officials in China have tended to associate ethnic “minority” mobile pastoralists with destructive cultural practices that, they argue, have led to ecological decline on the steppes. This argument is integral to the “degradation narrative” that underpins the discourse on grassland science. The conventional bio‐ecology emphasis on species dominance (growth‐form), in fact says little about the extent of anthropogenic impacts on above‐ground biomass and whether these factors have been the cause of degradation. The paper suggests that greater consideration is given to specific changes in human activity, climatic and plant productivity over time and space, based on endogenous, flexible seasonal estimates.

Research limitations/implications

Although presenting challenges to conventional grassland science based on endogenous experiences and herder practices, it may have specific geopolitical limits to more general scaling‐up in different contexts.

Practical implications

The paper discusses new modalities of non‐equilibrium grassland management, inverting normative top‐down approaches to controlling environmental degradation, livestock distribution and stocking rates.

Social implications

The paper suggests rethinking the use of customary practices, vernacular knowledge and the social organisation of herders in the design of sustainable grassland management.


The paper may be valuable to practitioners, rural development planners, funders and researchers interested in the use of integrated, cross‐disciplinary, new ecological knowledge in grassland management.



Taylor, J. (2012), "Constraints of grassland science, pastoral management and policy in Northern China", International Journal of Development Issues, Vol. 11 No. 3, pp. 208-226.

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