Pastoral Risk Management in Qinghai province (China)
Qinghai province is a typical upland pastoral region of Northwest China. It is one of the five largest pastoral regions in China with extensive rangeland resources and a long history of pastoral livelihoods. Livestock production plays a central role in the economy of the province, especially for minority ethnic groups.
The pastoral production systems in Qinghai however are under pressure. In recent years, natural disasters have occurred more frequently. Since the 1950s, there have been 14 major snow disasters. Ten were in the 40 years between the 1950s and 1980s, but four occurred in the 1990s alone. This is almost a doubling in frequency during the last decade. Due to these disasters, 22 million head of livestock were lost, and direct economic losses are estimated at RMB 1.1 billion (USD 137.5 million). It is the highest political and economic priority for the North-western Provinces of China to reduce these economic losses.
The total area of the province is 720,000 km2, accounting for 7.5 percent of the territory of China. The high plateau of Qinghai is covered by mountains with about 80 percent above 3,000 meters about sea level. Farmland suitable for agriculture in eastern Qinghai makes up only 1.5% of the area of the province. The total pasture area in Qinghai is 36.45 million ha, making up 50.5% of the total area. According to 2004 statistics, the population of Qinghai is 5.38 million, with 55% of Han nationality, and 46% of 33 minority nationalities. The Tibetan population in Qinghai is 1.09 million, accounting for 21% of the total provincial population. The rural population is 3.89 million people, of whom 85 percent are in the cropping area and 15 percent in the pastoral area.
The project counties of Henan and Zeku in Huangnan prefecture are contiguous and lie between 1000 34’ and 1020 15’ N and 330 04’ and 350 32’ E. Both counties entirely depend on a pastoral economy but differ in degree of development and relative wealth. Demonstration villages were selected in each county:
- Nanqi village in Henan is relatively prosperous, permanent dwellings are in brick and have glazed winter shelters.
- Jilong village in Zeku has winter quarters built in rammed earth and mud-walled pens for winter livestock but no glazed shelters.
The climate is extreme and markedly continental as would be expected at such an altitude in the centre of a continent. Winters are long and harsh and the growing season short. There is no frost-free season: the dates of the first and last killing frosts are variable and frost can occur any day of the year, and ground frosts can occur at any time in summer. The growing season is from May to September. The annual precipitation is relatively high comparing with the more northerly and westerly parts of Qinghai: about 600 millimetres annually in Henan and around 500 mm in Zeku, mainly falling in summer and winter. The average annual temperature in Henan is -1.3 0C – 1.6 0C and that of Zeku -3 0C – 2.8 0C.
The grasslands of the project area are at an altitude of 3,500 – 3,700 metres on gently undulating plains with occasional low hills, typical of much of the southern grasslands of the Qinghai plateau. The entire area is above the tree-line. The vegetation is mainly low-growing with Kobresia and other Cyperaceae. Elymus nutans and Poa sp. are important grasses and many broad-leaved plants of which Ranunculus spp. are very evident. Although pastures are hard grazed, ground cover is generally good to very good.