Over half of natural grassland in China's Inner Mongolia now ranchland

09:25, July 11, 2010      

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More than half of China's largest prairie area in northern Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region has become family ranches through a land contract system introduced in 1989, according to the latest government survey.

The survey by the regional agricultural and animal husbandry bureau found 66 percent of the 88 million-ha natural grassland in Inner Mongolia has become family ranches.

Some 1.6 million households have settled down after leasing the right to graze their animals under the land contract system, instead of moving freely on the grassland like what their ancestors did for centuries, according to the survey result.

This has aroused debates if the loss of nomadic traditions is good or bad for the conservation of fragile ecosystem of the grassland, which suffered desertification in recent decades.

Chaolu, a 36-year-old Mongolian herdsman, said he only had a faint memory of the nomadic life from his childhood.

His family settled down on the grassland of Taipusi Banner in the heart of Inner Mongolia in 1980s, and started to lease a 66.6-ha. lot of grassland.

It has become a routine job for Chaolu to get on his motorbike to drive his cattle back from neighboring ranches, as soon as neighbors call to alert him that his livestock have roamed onto their land.

"I can understand them. People love their own ranches like their own children, and care more about the environment," he said.

The sense of responsibility has helped locals rethink about some practice which were thought harmful for the grassland, for example, overgrazing.

Chaolu's family used to have a herd double the current number of 200 cattle and sheep.

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