Herdsmen compensated for forgoing grazing in sandstorm-ravaged NW China

10:34, January 15, 2011      

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Herdsmen in northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region will receive compensation for abandoning pasturing amid a government campaign to fight the sandstorm that ravaged most of the northern parts of the country.

This was written into legislation that was ratified last week by the People's Congress of Ningxia, the provincial legislative body. The legislation prohibits pasturing across the entire region, a campaign that was initiated seven years ago to curb sandstorms.

Herdsmen will receive subsidies from the government for abandoning pasturing and raising their herds in pens, said Zhang Guowen, vice chairman of the Legislative Affairs Commission of the Ningxia People's Congress.

But he did not elaborate on how much a herdsman might receive.

Illegal pasturing, however, will be fined 5 to 30 yuan (75 U.S. cents to 4.5 dollars) per sheep, according to the legislation.

The ecosystem in Ningxia is fragile as grasslands in the drought-prone region were degraded due to over-grazing which, in turn, worsened desertification.

Dang Yan, a 42-year-old herdsman from Gaoshawo Township, Yanchi County in Ningxia, still recalled when sandstorms were raging and grass was scarce.

"People dared not open windows as the sand would bury a chopstick on the table overnight," Dang said.

"Some hungry sheep learned to jump and feed on leaves on short trees, as there was not enough grass," he recalled.

"When I was told pasturing was prohibited seven years ago, I was worried about what I would live on in the future," Dang said.

To his surprise, Dang's income did not drop, as the government has taken various measures to aid herding.

The Ningxia government has cultivated 400,000 hectares of grasslands to provide more fodder, after pasturing was banned.

In the meantime, the government encouraged more growing of corn, which can be fed to cattle or sheep.

As a result, the number of sheep in Ningxia has increased to over 4 million, now raised in pens, from 3 million that were pastured before.

Ningxia's campaign is part of a larger scheme that was introduced by the Chinese government in eight major pasturing provinces in 2011 to curb sandstorms by encouraging less grazing to protect grasslands.

The central government has earmarked 13.4 billion yuan (2 billion dollars) per year for the scheme, which translates into a subsidy of 90 yuan (14 dollars) for every hectare of grassland.

Dang, who is now raising about 200 sheep, will receive money this year as compensation for giving up pasturing, though he does not know exactly how much that will be.

"Now, I understand that the policy of banning pasturing is beneficial to us," Dang said.

Though pasturing is banned, herdsmen are still allowed to mow grass for their cattle.

"When the grasslands are restored to a certain level, the ban will be lifted temporarily for grazing," said Zhang Guowen.

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