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2.1 Grassland monitoring

Qinghai Province, including Huang Nan Prefecture where project activities were concentrated, has a long history of grassland surveys, most of which were based upon well-established techniques and designed to provide basic information on plant species composition and biomass within typical grassland ecosystems. Earlier surveys tended to focus more on the botanical composition and status of grasslands. With increasing concern over the resource status of the grasslands, more recent surveys have incorporated the assessment of livestock carrying capacity based on simple biomass measurements and standardised livestock forage requirements. More recently, there has been repeated sampling during the herbage growing season to better understand seasonal patterns of biomass accumulation and their inter-year variability.

Surveys to classify and determine the extent of grassland ecotypes were executed by the Ministry of Agriculture during 1984 at county level within each prefecture. In the mid-1990s a new programme, complementing earlier surveys, was implemented in Huang Nan Prefecture to provide basic data on the production and carrying capacity of the grazing lands to support improved grazing management and increase resistance to disasters.

In 2003 the Ministry of Agriculture initiated a modified programme to improve the assessment of livestock carrying capacity. This programme is carried out at 96 sites across the winter grazing lands of the prefecture, and involves a total of 192 quadrat sampling points (incorporating the 150 sampling points of the previous programme). Each location represents about 93,000 mu (6,200 ha) and each sampling point consists of a quadrat of one square metre. Under the new regime three samples, cut to a height of about 1.5 to 2 centimetres, are collected each year during late May, early July and late August or early September. As for the earlier programme, a complimentary set of 192 grazed quadrat sampling points are monitored in the summer grazing land.

Data from these surveys are used to calculate ‘recommended’ stocking loads or ‘carrying capacity’ for the winter grazing lands associated with each township. Stocking load recommendations are provided to herders prior to each winter so that they may make timely adjustments to livestock numbers. The recommended stocking load estimates integrate the fresh weight of the herbage harvested within each quadrat, a standardised livestock herbage consumption rate, period of grazing and grazing land area.

These programmes provide important base information on the nature and dynamics of the pastoral resources within the grasslands and generate coarse indices of livestock support capacity for a particular point in time. The evolution of the surveys from being ‘botanical’ to being used to manage the pastoral resources and resolve issues of sustainable grassland use shows considerable foresight by both the government and scientists. Such information has proved very useful to the TCP team in compiling land, forage and livestock databases used in developing the pastoral resource and risk assessment techniques proposed for an advanced pastoral risk management strategy.

Further improvements in the scope and detail of pastoral resource information will yield substantial benefits in location relevance and analysis sensitivity. The heterogeneity of land resources and mixes of resources unique to specific villages can be taken into account, resulting in site specific recommendations with a higher level of relevance. Current grassland monitoring and resource assessment programmes are commendable in that they maximise information gathering within the constraints of labour-intensive field techniques, staff resources and funding levels. However if a generational advance in pastoral resource assessment and risk management is to be achieved, then the collection of additional field data will need to be based on more sophisticated and less labour-intensive techniques.

Although current grassland monitoring programmes are designed to represent the main grassland types they do not cover adequately the high level of spatial heterogeneity which exists within the project areas. As a result variations in pastoral resources, especially in productivity, are not reflected in land and forage data sets. Such variations are due to such factors as topography (macro and micro), water table, plant community types, historical use patterns, recent subdivisions and distance from settlements,

Electronic meters, in various forms, have been used to assess standing biomass of pastures since the 1970s. If the electronic meter (the ‘pasture probe’ supplied by the TCP project) is properly calibrated and used under standard conditions it has the potential to be a very useful technique, providing data of the type required by the pastoral resource assessment techniques, the potential for sampling large areas quickly, and will significantly reduce labour requirements in the field.

Main conclusions on grassland monitoring

A system of pasture monitoring has been in place in Qingai for over a decade and has built up sound databases of information on grassland yield and growth patterns. The techniques used are labour-intensive so the number of sites which can be dealt with is limited; this prevents adequate cover of the various pasture types and quick assessment of standing herbage in autumn over a wide area which is required for risk assessment. An electronic pasture probe, used in conjunction with classical sampling, would allow standing herbage to be measured at a great number of sites very quickly. A probe was acquired by the project but arrived too late for training by the international consultant. Instructions for calibrating and using the probe are given in the consultancy report. The areas of the different pasture types and their emplacement are not known; mapping is needed to allow more accurate assessment of grassland yields.

2.2 Pastoral resource assessment

(1) RAPS-Resource Assessment for Pastoral System

Rapid processing and analysis of monitoring results and their integration with livestock, climate and other parameters is essential if useful information is to be available in real time as is needed by risk forecasters and planners. The project introduced and tested a software system and trained staff in its use. The Resource Assessment for Pastoral Systems (RAPS) has shown great promise in the project area and should be used henceforth as the means of handling data for grassland advisory work and risk forecasting. RAPS should become a mainstream part of such work throughout the province, incorporated into the Bureau’s routine activities, and should not be left as a parallel system to older methodology.[2]

Pastoral system modelling using RAPS avoids limitations of the traditional techniques of assessing carrying capacity, and brings the methodology in line with GIS, GPS and remote sensing technologies which are also available to the AHHB. The RAPS model primarily uses metabolisable energy (ME) as the forage-livestock integrator. For each land and forage unit, the main parameters incorporated in the land-forage database are:

For the livestock component, estimations of forage requirements for each livestock class are based on:

The use of RAPS analyses is not limited to livestock management. It can also be used for many aspects of environmental studies in grassland environments.

The aim of Pastoral Resource Assessment in the context of risk management is to quantify and better understand the complex mix of pastoral resources available to herder groups to support sustainable resource-led management and reduce winter risk. It will: monitor the condition and trend of the grasslands to, among other things, identify as early as possible any trends that might increase winter risk; quantify winter feed requirements and assess the frequency and amount of emergency forage requirements to mitigate the effects of climatically extreme winters; assess the potential impact of risk reduction options listed above and livestock management, and grassland management and forage supply.

Up-to-date information is needed to allow timely warning of possible emergencies and the necessary planning for their avoidance or mitigation. Resource assessment involves the handling and integrating of large quantities of data on grassland and livestock. Suitable computer software to process the data in the form of RAPS has been introduced by the project and staff trained in its use. RAPS is very promising and should be adopted throughout the province but more training will be necessary.

See Figure 1. Components of Integrated Analysis and Assessment and Figure 2. Risk assessment within the context of sustainable pastoral resource management.

Figure 1. Components of Integrated Analysis and Assessment

(2) Training on RAPS

In 2004 a RAPS training course was held at the Huang Nan Prefecture Bureau of Animal Husbandry and Agriculture for local prefecture grassland station staff. It was considered a successful introduction to the scope and application of RAPS. Considerable interest was generated regarding the potential application of RAPS both within the project counties and in other grassland station programmes. The course highlighted a number of factors critical to the successful outcome of the training:

Outputs in 2005 included: updating of the translation into Chinese of the 50 page RAPS User Guideline; translation into Chinese of the RAPS software menus, options, user prompts and text-based results; compilation of training materials based on the above translations; formal training of project staff and other relevant staff of provincial government grassland, pasture and livestock production institutions; provision of informal ongoing training in the use of RAPS to project staff and the national counterparts; analysis of data made available since 2004; updating and expansion of the RAPS benchmark (current status) base variable, land and forage, and livestock databases for each of the four project sites; analyses of the updated RAPS benchmark databases with demonstrations of the application of the databases and interpretation of the results.

Before the second international consultancy in 2005 the RAPS User Guidelines were translated into Chinese by Mr Shi Dejun and Ms Sa Wenjun of the Project Office. The translated document was updated prior to the formal training programme and continually updated thereafter. A draft of the translated user guidelines and initial Chinese versions of RAPS were tested and updated during the training course.

The first training session involved 14 people including two from the Project Office, four from the Prefecture Grassland Station and the remainder from the Provincial Grassland Station and University. The second training session, because of work commitments of the participants, was limited to half a day. With such a short time available, it was decided not undertake any advanced training but to revise the topics covered during the first training session. Revised benchmark databases were used to illustrate the process of development and critical assessment of the databases, the considerations involved and sources of information, and types of output. Interpretation of the results within the context of the identification of critical pastoral resource issues and management decision support were discussed. Senior members of the Project Office and the Bureau of Animal Husbandry and Agriculture attended the second training session. Components and topics of the RAPS training programme are presented in table 1.

Table 1. Components and topics of the RAPS training programme


RAPS Overview

Overview of Training Programme


Reason for Development

Complexity of pastoral systems, misleading feeding standards, need to assess many.
Options and assess range of scenarios, understand relationships between resource.

Previous Applications

Farms, development options and complementarity.
Projects (Bhutan, Ethiopia, Sudan, Xinjiang and Gansu)

Basic Concepts

Decision Support Tool

Dynamics or Variability
Reflects local environmental conditions
Livestock Based on International Standards
Multiple Sources of Data

Standards (if relevant), field measurements, research, inferred from environmental data. Parameters, satellite imagery and remote sensing.

Easily updated
Information quality is critical

Examples of Use
Assessment Procedure

Baseline Databases
"Reality" Indices
Development Assessment

Types of Output

Text based, Graphical, Formatted Data

Details of Use

Basic (Initial Training)

Databases (Base Variable, Land and Forage and Livestock)

Creating and Editing Databases

Blank Database, Database Re-use, Standard Files

Running Analyses
Practice Exercises

Creating Databases, Editing, Running Analyses

Interpreting Output

Text, Graphical

Critical Assessment of Output

Types of Use

(3) RAPS benchmark databases

In 2004 preliminary benchmark databases relating to Henan County, Nanqi village, and Zeku County and Jilong village were compiled. In 2005 the main objective relating to the application of RAPS was to revise and expand the databases to a level at which the current condition of pastoral production at the four sites could be represented realistically. The revision of the benchmark databases involved a factor-wise critical assessment of all the base variable, land and forage and livestock databases. Particular attention was given to the verification of growth and production parameters relating to the local environment and production systems. A range of published scientific papers were drawn upon to refine and localise the parameters. A major refinement to the land and forage databases, which was anticipated but not able to be carried out, was the splitting of each seasonal grazing land into sub-units reflecting variations in vegetation communities and livestock use. These improvements are considered high priority as their inclusion would significantly increase the realism and resolution of the databases and therefore the quality of subsequent analyses. Two major issues need to be resolved before such data can be included: the areas of seasonal grazing lands and the integration of seasonal grazing land data with vegetation type and grazing use information. This information needs to be mapped.

There are significant discrepancies between official prefecture statistics on seasonal grazing land areas within each of the project sites, and local information regarding those areas. Much of the discrepancy has arisen because the official information is often out of date and does not reflect the changes in grazing management that have occurred in recent years. Seasonal grazing patterns have become much more dynamic, particularly in relation to the timing of the ‘return’ of livestock from summer to winter grazing areas. These changes have been bought about by the allocation of winter grazing lands and have been facilitated by the fact that differences between the summer and winter grazing lands are more to do with proximity to the permanent winter settlements than differences in vegetation, altitude and weather. That is, the differences are primarily spatial. It is recommended that the seasonal grazing lands and major vegetation types within the project areas be mapped using a GPS as soon as possible and the resultant data entered into the layers of a GIS system. The area information should then be used to modify and expand the RAPS land and forage databases.

The availability of information on herbage yield and availability expressed in kilograms of dry matter per hectare continues to constrain the usefulness of information already collected, particularly from the ongoing grassland surveys. Field measurements that have been traditionally carried out as part of regular programmes are limited in scope and frequency because of shortage of labour and funding, and are expressed in terms of either fresh or air-dried weights of standing herbage for a particular point in time.

The livestock databases representing the current production regimes in each of the four project areas were also critically assessed and updated where substantial information supporting modifications were available. Published seasonal live-weights were used to calibrate the live-weight profiles.

A general description of the pastoral resource characteristics of the four project areas was presented in July 2004. By June 2005 the base variable, land and forage, and livestock databases were considered to be in a ‘usable’ form and therefore could be applied in formal analyses of the current pastoral resource and production regimes. The benchmark databases should be subject to ongoing refinement and improvement. As described above, important improvements to the benchmark databases should only be made once substantial information becomes available.

A number of preliminary analyses have been carried out using the benchmark databases that relate directly or indirectly to the overall pastoral risk assessment and forecasting programme. As described in the RAPS User Guidelines, a series of convergent indicators were used to check the validity of the databases to ensure that they realistically represent the current status of the pastoral production regimes being analysed.

(4) RAPS and risk assessment

The pastoral risk assessment and forecasting programme is designed to give early-warning to herders technicians and administrators of the possibility of serious conditions during forthcoming winter, and particularly relates to the provision of adequate livestock feed supply and shelter. Early-warning forecasts will make it possible for herders and others to engage pre-planned responses. The basic requirements for a practicable pastoral risk assessment and forecasting programme are simplicity, relevance and ease of application at the village level. To maximise the quality of output, the use of multiple convergent indicators of risk is an integral part of design.

Overall, the management of pastoral risk has two categories of mitigation relating to ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ conditions:

The overall relationships between the component activities of risk assessment within the context of sustainable pastoral resource management are illustrated in Figure 2.2. RAPS-based assessment of the pastoral systems is fundamental to the formulation of risk assessment procedures. RAPS provides decision support by integrating, quantifying and forecasting the impacts of deviations from the norm of most of the contributing factors.

The main indicators contributing to risk assessment are:

Most of the indicators can either be used directly in the subjective assessment of risk or analysed using RAPS software to generate quantified assessments and forecasts. Examples of analyses and outputs that directly or indirectly affect risk management are shown in the grey boxes of the right-hand column of Figure 2. All risk assessment activities contribute to the formulation of the pastoral risk management programme and policy development. It is essential that activities of the pastoral risk assessment and forecasting programme are carried out on a regular, routine and timely basis. Most activities are time-critical within a season to ensure that risk levels for the ensuing winter are identified and quantified as soon as possible. This ensures sufficient opportunity for mitigation measures to be implemented.

A preliminary year-wise schedule of routine pastoral system monitoring and analysis and the integration of the components of risk management is presented in Figure 3. The schedule of activities is self-explanatory and designed specifically to produce timely routine forecasts of the magnitude and extent of winter risk and recommendations for the mitigation of those risks. The coloured activity bars indicate the overall period of a particular activity and not necessarily a continuous full-time commitment. For example the rangeland herbage condition and availability monitoring activity will be carried out at regular intervals between the beginning of May and the end of August; some monitoring may be required outwith the period shown.

Figure 2. Risk assessment within the context of sustainable pastoral resource management

Figure 3. Preliminary Yearly Schedule of Pastoral Risk Assessment and Management Policy Development Activities

(5) Main conclusions on pastoral resource assessment

RAPS software is promising and effective tool for handling pastoral data and integrating the many grassland, livestock and climatic data to provide information in a suitable form for planning grassland use, providing advice to local authorities and herders as well as assessing and forecasting risk. Preliminary testing in Qinghai over two seasons has provided useful results and shown the advantages of special programmes for analysing and integrating pastoral data. The preliminary analyses have also identified subjects on which more, or more accurate, information is needed. These are noted above and include: mapping of vegetation types; verification of livestock numbers and the need for a greater cover of sampling - which could be attained using an electronic pasture meter. Training courses have been held and the user manual and the software itself have been translated into Chinese. RAPS is a tool for handling and integrating data so it should be integrated into the Bureau’s routine work, preferably Province-wide, not kept as a separate programme. Extension of the use of RAPS will require the training of more staff; there may also be a need for more in depth training of specialist staff who would supervise others.


3.1 Present grazing management system: winter and summer pasture

The present grazing management system in the project counties is simple. There are usually only two seasonal units of grazing land:

3.2 Pastoral Land Tenure and Grazing Management

Pasture land tenure is a central issue to pastoral risk management. Secure tenure reduces risk by enabling herders to manage their grazing activities in a more sustainable way with a degree of certainty to insure the long term use of grassland in the future; insecure tenure leads herders to unplanned and potentially risky moves as they struggle to make the best of what they can find.

The household responsibility system has created new natural resource tenure conditions and greatly increased tenure security for herders. The grassland law formulated in 1985 and amended in 2002 encouraged the development of a more efficient pastoral system, and it has succeeded in many of its objectives. However there are several well-known problems, which include:

The winter grasslands in the project area have been fully allocated to households since 1999 on 50 year leases. Household autumn-winter-spring pastures are a single unit and have all been fenced, although in some cases fences between household’s or neighbours’ winter-spring areas are now being removed by the lease-holders to allow a degree of co-ordinated or even common management of winter pastures at a scale larger than the household. Many fences seem to be symbolic markers of property limits, rather than a way to keep animals in or out. Most but not all summer pastures have been allocated to groups, and are not generally fenced.

Under the pasture contract system, there is no provision for emergency, state or community-managed pastures. As a part of the disaster management system detailed below, it may be appropriate to gazette emergency grazing areas and agree and implement appropriate management rules.

Increasing numbers of herders have moved to town and now rent out their pasture to those who stay behind. Individuals, whether they live in towns or the countryside, can build up a large area of rented grazing under their control. In the project area, some herder family groups are accumulating large areas of contiguous winter pasture in this way. They then remove the internal fences in the whole area and manage it as common grazing for their group of households. The fact that this system is evolving through herder initiative alone suggests it has substantial advantages in these circumstances.

(1) Reserved grassland

A few herders have, of their own initiative, enclosed small areas of grassland close to their winter homesteads with wire-mesh and spread sheep manure (most yak dung is used as fuel). These enclosures are protected from about May until they are grazed, usually by ewes, in December - January. The development of the natural vegetation within the enclosures at the time of project fieldwork in 2004 was outstanding; the herbage was 25 - 30 centimetres high and valuable pasture plants such as Poa and Elymus nutans were growing strongly. Outside the fence the grassland was like a close-mown lawn and these grasses could only be found by very close examination. The Provincial DAAH should encourage more herders to reserve areas of winter grassland and monitor the results.

(2) Reducing and redirecting grazing pressure

The issue of livestock herd size in relation to pasture is complex. Many observers claim that in Qinghai aggregate herds and flocks are now larger than pasture and feed resources can accommodate, although research into this issue by the Qinghai Livestock Development Project was inconclusive. It is unlikely that herders will spontaneously reduce herd sizes, without adequate direct or indirect compensation. At present stocking rates there is general agreement that there is little scope to improve animal productivity by better pasture management alone. Irrigated grassland is not a suitable option for herders in the project area and breaking open grassland to sow pasture is officially discouraged for environmental reasons. Reseeding of severely degraded land may be possible, but not in the short term.

In these circumstances, productivity gains will have to come primarily through a mix of activities, only some of which are directly related to tenure. These include: an extension of the areas of pooled and collectively managed winter-spring grazing, within which there should be a place for small fenced household winter grazing reserves; increased haymaking; and use of supplementary feed including concentrates. If small groups organise to pool and jointly manage their winter-spring pastures, fencing costs would be reduced considerably. One further area where there might be productivity gains from pasture management is in the balance of use between summer and winter pastures, the first being sometimes underused and the latter often overused. Although the movement of herds and flocks between summer and winter areas is a management decision for households, in practice it would be facilitated by a mechanism for herding households to co-ordinate their seasonal moves, of the sort a herders’ association could provide.

Under the pasture contract system, there is no provision for emergency, state or community-managed pastures. As a part of the disaster management system detailed below, any emergency grazing areas should be gazetted and appropriate management rules agreed and implemented.

3.3 Rehabilitation of degraded grasslands[3]

Grassland degradation is perceived as a widespread problem in Qinghai, and throughout much of China’s grazing lands. It was not emphasised within the project area and, since research and demonstration on grassland rehabilitation requires many years, it was not included in the project’s activities: it is mentioned here for completeness and because of its importance in many parts of the province. Degradation is usually brought about by poor grazing management and is often exacerbated by rodent damage, wind and water erosion. One of the more serious types of degradation is the so called ‘black beach’ which occurs at elevations between 3,600 and 4,500 metres in areas that are affected by a combination of human activity and environmental factors.

Black beach formation follows a sequence of sedge degradation, rodent burrowing, damage by animal trampling, wind and water erosion, sedge mortality and increased bare ground, root shearing by frost heaving, and continued wind and water erosion.

Much research has been carried out elsewhere in Qinghai on rehabilitation of degraded grassland since the 1970s and effective techniques of reseeding are known. The EU supported Livestock Development Project implemented from 1995 to 1999 has also shown good results in rehabilitating ‘black beach’ in Dari County, Guoluo Prefecture. The most suitable grasses are indigenous ones: Elymus nutans and Elymus breviaristatus; Kobresia has been used successfully but its seed is generally of low germination and the seedlings are slow to establish. Seriously degraded grassland should be enclosed and re-vegetated, moderately degraded grassland should be rehabilitated by reducing the grazing intensity, and livestock grazing should be controlled on lightly degraded grassland. Black beach rehabilitation using these methods has a productive stand life between five and eight years. Maximum yield is reached in two to three years and then decreases. After eight years, stands need to be revisited and re-treated if stand productivity is to be retained. It appears, therefore, that reseeding alone is not enough and fundamental changes in grazing management will be required to avoid recurrence of degradation.

Decisions on grassland rehabilitation will have to be made after economic calculations but where environmental effects are important, as on main catchment areas, the value of the impact of the improved ground cover on runoff and general biodiversity will have to enter the calculation.

3.4 Control of rodent damage

Small burrowing herbivores cause considerable damage to grassland in Qinghai. They are generally referred to as rodents although the most important, the plateau pika - Ochotona curzoniae - is a lagomorph, the group to which hares and rabbits belong. The zokor, Myospalax baileyi is also important and species of lesser importance include are the Daurian pika (Ochotona daurica), plateau pine vole (Pitymys irene) and Himalayan marmot (Marmota himalayalayana). Pika mainly inhabit the alpine steppe, steppe meadow, alpine meadow and alpine desert steppe at an elevation of 3,100-5,100 m above sea level. In the area of shrub and steppe, they only live on the grassland around the shrub, and never enter the shrub. Pika live in family groups in basin between hills, terrace and piedmont steppe. Pika prefer open habitats and avoid dense shrub or thick vegetation. Pika feed on grass, damage the root, and even damage the primary grass layer and soil layer by burrowing. The damage is proportional to the density of the animals. When the population increases to the carrying capacity, the population increase stops, but damage to the grassland continues.

Rodent infestation is monitored regularly by the Grassland Station; mean data for 2000 - 2004 are given in table 4.

Table 4 Estimates of Pica populations in Henan and Zeku Counties (mean 2000 to 2004)


Area (ha)

Active Burrows


Total Head

Burrow Coefficient













Source: Prefecture Grassland Station

On the basis of the rodent data an attempt to calculate their effect was made using RAPS with the following result:

Analyses indicated that pika consume in the order of 10% and 19% of herbage in Henan and Zeku Counties respectively. Therefore competition for herbage between pika and livestock is significant (competition from other rodent types were not included in the analysis). There are many questions about the ecological and managerial influences on rodent populations, especially relating to epidemics. If rodent epidemics are caused by or are exacerbated by current grazing land management practices then rodents have a significant impact on opportunities for pastoral risk management.

Poisoning campaigns have been carried out in many places but there seems, as yet, to be no proven control method for pikas. Similar problems are common throughout Northern China and Brandt’s vole (Microtus brandti) is a serious pest in Inner Mongolia.


4.1 Fodder production

Sown fodder is a new concept to the herders of the project area. They are being encouraged to grow oats, for hay, in walled sheep pens in summer as part of the Government’s four anti-disaster counter-measures (4CM). Oats are the most suitable fodder and have been widely used in the high altitude area of the province. Naked barley, which is widely grown in agricultural areas, could probably be used but is unlikely to be as productive. The only other forage in demonstration plots is vetch, probably Vicia sativa, which has been sown in mixture with oats in some plots. The vetch plants inspected had a few ineffective nodules, and no red nodules were seen. The lack of effective nodulation is not surprising since the seed had not been inoculated, no wild vetch was seen in the local vegetation and sheep pens would in any case be devoid of vegetation. If vetch demonstrations are to be persisted with seed should be inoculated. Commercial inoculant is available in China.

(1) Oats growing by herders

Oats are the only fodder identified as suitable for use in extension work in the project area. The growing season is adequate to produce a hay crop but not long or warm enough for seed production. Seed is produced in the agricultural areas of the province. All fodder oats are hulled forms of Avena sativa, although formerly naked forms of A. sativa (hexaploid) were common. Provincial research institutions have ongoing programmes for introducing and screening fodder oats. Their recommendations should be followed. The currently recommended cultivars for the conditions of the project area are Lena, Qinghai 444 and Canadian which are the best performing oats for the higher rainfall areas of Qinghai.

Government strategy is to encourage the growing of oats in walled sheep pens; these pens should be highly fertile if sheep are kept in them overnight for an extended period and the wall provides protection against errant stock and strong cold winds. The target figure is one third of an hectare (five mu) per household. This is rarely attained and most sheep pens are too small - a little over half a mu. At present the contribution of sown fodder to the overall feed availability in the project area is very small but there is considerable potential to provide more conserved fodder for use in periods of stress. The herders have no experience of cultivation or haymaking and a considerable effort in demonstration and training will be needed before they reach competence. While ploughing of open grassland to sow fodder or ‘improved pasture’ is strictly discouraged for environmental reasons there would be no objection to expanding fodder plots close to the homestead. The EU-funded Qinghai Livestock Development Programme reported that herders in its project area at Guoluo had enthusiastically taken up fodder oats production in sheep pens: over two thousand households were cultivating an average of 3.3 mu each, and achieving yields of 8,543 kg/ha. The practice seemed likely to spread.

(2) The Establishment of household based fodder production

Oats are sown in mid-May so, at the time of fieldwork, they were at the tillering stage. The quality of installation varied greatly from plot to plot. Land preparation had been either manual or by mouldboard plough drawn by a two-wheeled tractor. Two-wheeled tractors have a very large turning circle so are unsuitable for most sheep-pens. Animal drawn implements are not used. There is no tradition of animal traction in herding communities in the project area, although yaks are commonly used as draught animals and for riding. Seedbeds have generally been very rough and the one large ploughed plot inspected seemed to have been sown directly on to un-harrowed ploughed land which gave a very uneven stand with excessively dense ‘rows’ about 60 cm apart and little in between. Many of the hand-dug pens seen were also very rough with uneven stands. Greater care in seed-bed preparation is necessary.

Seed rates recommended locally are high but seed quality is sometimes mediocre. Current recommendations are 15 kg/mu broadcast and 8 kg/mu drilled; increased seed rate does not compensate for poor agronomy but on the grasslands there may be rodent damage. Broadcasting will require training and experience to get seed spread evenly - seed should be cast upwards, not thrown at the sower’s feet; hand-powered rotary seeders are available locally and are much more accurate than broadcasting by inexperienced herders. Some should be acquired by the DAAH for experiment. The walled sheep pens should be fertile if sheep have been kept in them for long enough. In some cases more sheep manure is added; herders have not developed systems for transporting manure.

(3) Seed supply

Seed supply for herder’s needs is assured in quantity and quality since oat seed of known quality and variety is readily available commercially. Qinghai is a major producer of oats in China. The Animal Husbandry Bureau established an oat seed base some time ago in Huangzhong county in a major oat-growing agricultural zone at about 2,600 metres. The base operates under technical advice from the local Grassland Station and is managed by a now private company. Breeders’ seed of recommended varieties is supplied to the Grassland Station by the Qinghai Academy of Agricultural Sciences. The Grassland station produces mother seed (of a range of recommended cultivars) which is sold to the company. The company arranges further bulking by farmers and supervises production; seed is purchased subject to inspection for maturity and purity. The seed is then cleaned and germination-tested before being sold. The area under oat seed in Huangzhong is close to 30,000 mu (2,000 hectares).

(4) Constraints to the expansion of oat growing

The main constraints to expanding oats haymaking in the project area are social and cultural.

- Herders have no tradition of growing crops, even the simplest cereals, nor of haymaking, since the local grasslands are not very suitable for hay.

- They may not be strongly motivated towards manual tasks associated with tillage and haymaking. Their skills with agricultural machinery seem low and even simple farming hand tools are absent from household equipment.

- Local material is lacking. Yak carts are unknown, and animals (and herders) are not trained for ploughing although yak ploughs would be much better suited to small pens than two-wheeled tractors. In the short-grass pastures above the tree-line there are no materials for basketry or cheap ropes and no poles for drying tripods and other haymaking uses.

Technical constraints are very few: oat varieties are screened at provincial level and seed is produced in the agricultural areas (where oat hay is also used) and is available in commercial quantities. The oat crop is already proven in similar ecological conditions and has been grown successfully on a small scale in the project area. Hand tools and machinery for oat growing are the same as those for growing cereals and are readily available in markets throughout the country. Oat growing is very similar to growing wheat and barley - two of Qinghai’s main crops. Tools for mowing and handling hay, sickles and forks, are likewise available in markets. Weather at haymaking time will probably be a minor constraint since hay is best made after the first killing frost which may be in late September when days are shortening and temperatures falling.

(5) Haymaking

Hay is the most suitable means of conserving fodder under the conditions of the project area. General instructions are available.[4] Site-specific guidelines on oat growing and haymaking are being developed and should be modified in the light of experience. (see training notes in Appendix 1). Drying may be problematic at haymaking time, in early autumn. Silage making would be even more problematic: low temperatures might cause slow fermentation; small silos often lead to high wastage once opened; silage is not an ideal feed for sheep. It is possible to make silage in small plastic bags which overcomes the wastage problem but this is expensive and labour intensive.[5]

Hay should be made at the end of the growing season, in September when the maximum dry matter has accumulated and herders may be returning from the summer pastures. By that time days will be short, temperatures dropping and possibly there will be showers. Conditions for haymaking will not be ideal and there has been deterioration in store. Haymaking will have to be manual; herders may not own haymaking tools but suitable sickles and forks are on sale in the county town and in markets in agricultural areas. Two types of sickle are common: a heavy very curved short bladed type and the more traditional long (50 cm) handled sickle with a very slightly curved blade attached at almost right angles to the shaft; the latter is the main sickle used for cutting cereals and would be suitable for mowing oats for hay.

Cutting date will be from mid-September when well-grown oats should be at the flowering stage and cut by frost. In haymaking the aim is to reduce the moisture content of the herbage to 15 - 20 percent as rapidly as possible to reduce losses from respiration, enzymatic action and leaching. The present method is to tie the herbage, after a period of wilting, into small bundles and place these to dry on top of the pen walls. The bundles should be turned a few times to ensure even drying but this is not always done. Secondary drying on tripods could improve hay quality but the project area is above the tree-line and far from a source of cheap poles. Oats often appear to be dry before the nodes have dried completely. Moisture content of hay on a few demonstration plots should be checked.

4.2 Fodder Conservation

(1) Household storage of hay and concentrates and fodder banks

The present contribution of hay to risk management is very small indeed; sound data on hay yields is not available but from the area sown it is obvious that not much is produced in relation to need. Haymaking is, however, worth persevering with since it requires few inputs other than herder effort and, if the five mu per family is reached, would make a useful contribution. One third of a hectare, well manured, may produce 1.5 - 2.5 tons of made hay which would make a positive contribution to ewe nutrition. Hay will probably mainly be fed to ewes, possibly mostly to the weaker ones; according to the baseline survey ewe flocks in Nanqi are about 130, in Jilong about 70. With a daily allowance of 500 grams of straw and some concentrates the ewes could be supplemented, assuming two tons of hay, for 30 - 60 days. Hay should be regarded as part of the routine winter feeding programme, not as something which should be stored for later use - second year hay would have deteriorated.

(2) Emergency fodder funds

Under normal conditions central or local government should not hold emergency fodder stocks. Hay is a bulky fodder of relatively low feed value; it is expensive to transport and store and it is not cost-effective to transport it over large distances. Households and local communities should produce and hold private hay reserves if the hay is produced locally. Otherwise, emergency fodder funds should be constituted of higher nutritive value feeds, such as bran and concentrates. Rules for management, release and turnover of government emergency stocks need to be established. Management of such emergency reserves to make them sustainable is complex.

Herders already buy concentrates but quantities declared in the baseline survey vary widely without relation to herd size. Purchased fodder is part of the routine feeding system. Storage methods are probably simple but modern shelters have dry-standing for storing feed and hay.

Buying and storing extra concentrates for winter to form a local fodder bank or reserve should only be encouraged if the autumn pastoral risk forecast is pessimistic about the prospects for the coming winter-spring period. Even well-stored forage deteriorates quite rapidly if not used. Storage by groups would be even more problematical than by households. Concentrates and agro-industrial residues are readily available on the market in Qinghai. The best option for reacting to emergency needs would be to have an emergency cash fund at country headquarters which herders could draw on for loans for advance purchases if the risk forecast signals a severe risk of shortages in the following three to five months. County-level authorities should be able to call on the same fund to constitute a publicly-managed county level emergency stock. The dangers of this course of action - rapid physical deterioration of such reserves, and ‘routinisation’ (every year becomes a disaster year and the emergency stock becomes a normal part of seasonal feed deficit management by the local authority) - mean it should be approached with great care.

Technical details of hay storage are dealt with in the report of the international consultant on grazing management.

(3) Marketed fodder and hay

According to the Animal Husbandry Bureau of Huangnan Prefecture, hay is not made in marketable quantities in the project herding areas since the grassland is unsuitable for production of natural hay and the amount of oats grown is, at present, very small. Some oat hay is made in the farming areas but prices are high as are transport costs.

Agro-industrial by-products, mainly bran and rape-seed-cake, are readily available and more cost-efficient than hay as purchased feed. These can be purchased in the county town but in recent years have often been supplied to herders by traders from the farming areas. Only a small amount of hay has been sold locally at RMB 1 per kilo; rape cake is RMB 1.4 and bran RMB 1.2 per kilo which makes hay very expensive indeed.[6] Herders who buy feed usually purchase either bran or rape cake; about 500 kg of cake and 1,000 kg of bran is an average yearly purchase by herders of the project villages. Concentrate availability is not a problem for herders who require and can afford them; formulated feeds are available in addition to by-products and cereals. Concentrates are mainly fed to ewes during the critical April-May period. In case of snow events concentrates are used to save stock; a few herders use them to fatten sheep. Yaks are deemed to be hardy enough to survive without supplementary feeding. Losses of 20 - 30 percent live-weight over winter are common.

The baseline survey shows great variations in feed purchase between households and counties. In Henan the average household purchase was 808 kg (range nil - 3,500), with feed per ewe averaging 6.2 kg (range nil - 16.2). In Zeku average household purchase was 763 kg range (400 - 1300) and feed per ewe 12.7 kg (range 4.3 - 26).

Stock were not being fed with hay and concentrate at the time of fieldwork. No feeding equipment (troughs, racks, mangers) was seen so hay and expensive concentrates are probably fed directly off the ground. It may be worth investigating simple feeding equipment to reduce wastage and soiling of feed.


5.1 Assessment of current animal productivity

Yaks are the main subsistence stock. Sheep are more important for income, although wool prices are now very low. Mutton is important as a revenue source: some are sold direct off grass but nowadays many lambs are sold, in autumn, to farmers in the agricultural areas for fattening. Stock graze year-round although small stock may be sheltered in the worst weather. Stocks are vaccinated against epizootic diseases. The main diseases and parasites mentioned by herders were: hydatid cyst, lamb and calf diarrhoea, abortion (causes unknown), and ticks; internal parasites were not mentioned although they are certainly important. Mating season of yaks is in June-September, pregnancy duration 250 days. Mating season of sheep is September-November. Lambs may not be big enough for sale in the first year but herders aim at this - perhaps a reason for December lambing. Many lambs are sold to the agricultural areas for fattening.

Nearly all the feed comes from grazing and very little conserved fodder or concentrates are used. This means that the stock must be in good condition so as to survive the lean months of winter and spring - which involve severe weight loss. The animals are mostly small; the average weight of both yak and sheep has fallen sharply, almost to half. The reasons for the decline in livestock weight after privatisation of herds are variously attributed to poor breed maintenance and inbreeding, deficient and declining standards of husbandry. Probably all are involved.

Table 5 gives an example of the very serious deteriorating in the weight of yaks in south Qinghai.

Table 5. Comparison of Body weight of yak in 1981 and 1998 in Guoluo Prefecture


Body weight - kilograms




Decline - kg







1 year





2 years





3 years





4 years





5 years





Note: 1981 data are from "Survey Report on Livestock and Poultry Resources in Qinghai"; 1998 data are from "Estimation of production performance of yak in south area of Qinghai", «Yellow cattle magazine» 2002, volume 28.

Data from studies on yak weights in the project area during 2004 and 2005 are summarised in Table 6.

Table 6. Body weight of yak in project area according to age - kilograms

Age (year)







Body weight

59.88 ± 9.51

97.85 ± 14.56

167.16 ± 29.86

201.02 ± 44.29

249.92 ± 50.81

270.80 ± 50.81

It is necessary to build up information on stock weights for use in RAPS modelling. Rapid estimation of livestock condition can be done by visual examination and palpation; this will be useful for assessing animal physical condition in autumn. The procedures are described in detail in the report of the national consultant in livestock production.[7]

5.2 Improving livestock resilience to risk

Possible animal breeding and health interventions to reduce winter risk include:

Herders keep local breeds of livestock but, over the past twenty years, the average weight of their animals has apparently dropped dramatically; this may be due to nutrition or breeding. Almost all the feed of livestock comes from grazing so grazing management is in theory the most important means of improving the condition of stock. However there seems to be rather little room for manoeuvre in terms of grazing management. Attention to disease control and good husbandry is necessary. ‘Improved’ yak and sheep varieties have been introduced but their performance is not yet known. Experiments started by the project should be continued since the initial signs are hopeful. The lack of accurate livestock numbers is a constraint on progress and should be remedied by a comprehensive livestock census.

Qinghai province has 36 percent of the total yak population of China, and a substantial part of China’s total sheep population. Yak and Tibetan sheep are therefore the key animals in a pastoral risk management strategy for herders in Qinghai. For generations herders have paid close attention to the breeding of their animals to promote resilience to extreme weather, and they are skilful at this. Future strategy in this field should be to build on herders’ experience by making new types of genetic resource available to them to experiment and adopt.

In terms of body size, meat production and environmental resistance, domestic yak production performance could be considerably improved by crossbreeding with wild yak. Nearly twenty years of research and application into the use of wild yak genes has demonstrated that upgrading domestic yak by cross breeding with wild yak is widely used in all yak rearing areas of China. These techniques provide a simple and practical way to improve the local yak productivity. Most importantly, they are welcomed by herders.

Experimental crossing of yak cows with Simmental and Holstein frozen semen started in the late 1980s and achieved notable hybrid vigour, but with an unknown impact on sturdiness and ability to survive extreme winters. This work stopped in 1989.

Experimental crossing of half wild yak bulls with yak cows started again under the TCP project in 2002 in Zeku county, although not yet in Nanqi village. The purpose was to investigate how best to promote resilience to extreme environmental conditions, including especially extremely low winter temperatures and acute feed scarcity. Improvement in body weight in both species was taken as the indicator of greater environmental resilience.

Sheep breed improvement started in the 1960s and 1970s with the introduction of fine wool breeds in response to a strong world wool market and high prices. Decisions about breeds to be selected were taken within the framework of the planned economy, without direct involvement of herders. With the introduction of the household responsibility system, sheep were allocated to herding households and household heads now made decisions about selection. A fall in wool prices resulting from the decline in the wool market in the 1980s provided disincentives to households to continue breeding for wool, and sheep improvement efforts had entirely halted by 1983. From the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s the proportion of improved sheep in the flocks declined rapidly, and by 2005 all traces of the fine wool sheep had disappeared.

Oula sheep are a native breed of Tibetan sheep, selected for their high meat potential. Crossed with Tibetan sheep in other plateau areas, they demonstrate powerful hybrid vigour. Oula sheep were experimentally introduced to the project area from 2002. The crossbreeds with local Tibetan sheep have much high productivity than the pure Tibetans in terms of weight at birth, weaning, one year and adult; in meat productivity, Oula sheep are 30 percent heavier than pure Tibetan sheep. Herders have enthusiastically adopted them.

Twenty households were selected for demonstration in Nanqi village in Henan county, and another ten in Jilong in Zeku county. The criterion for demonstration households was that the infrastructure was good, that the herdsmen had primary education, and access and communications were adequate. The work is described in detail in the technical report on the livestock management system.[8]

The work was not far enough advanced by the end of the project for there to be measurable results. Local animal scientists remain convinced that the introduction of improved breeds from other parts of Qinghai, such as semi-wild yak bull and Oula ram, naturally mated with local yak and Tibetan sheep, are key measures for the genetic improvement of local animal under the present grazing system, thus improving the ability of herders to manage risk in the longer term.

The crossbreeding plan is quite complicated, and cannot be implemented by single households. The tasks include how to make breeding plans, castrating yak bulls, measuring the performance of offspring, planning the cull rate for each generation, fixing standards for breeding stock selection, organising all herdsmen to cooperate in the market so as to get the benefits. The work should in future be co-ordinated by local herdsmen’s associations.

Breed improvements by introduction of new breeds are, however for the long term and their effect on risk will have to be monitored. The classic livestock interventions will continue to be the main work of both herders and technicians. The control of contagious diseases (which are a form of risk) must continue. Other interventions must be directed at having stock in good condition in autumn to better withstand the lean, cold season. Parasite control is important to ensure that stock benefit from their grazing. Herders should give full attention to selecting breeding stock (locally) and culling poor performers as well as marketing excess stock before winter. Many herders now have stock shelters at their winter quarters which assist in protecting small-stock from winter cold.

5.3 Veterinary measures for improving the animal health conditions

Veterinary measures play an essential part in winter preparation, especially control of parasites, vaccination, spraying, de-worming and dipping of animals, and establishing drug stocks and methods of administering them.

Contagious diseases are a serious form of risk and they, along with parasites, can weaken stock and make them even more susceptible to serious weather events. The prevention of infectious diseases and the control of parasites is a primary necessity in any livestock production system and also for any programme of risk management. This is well recognised in Qinghai and a strong veterinary service has long been established.

Information on the disease situation in the project counties is lacking since little investigative work has been done there in the past decade. Disease surveillance and monitoring is directed towards the detection of important disease events (such as occurrence of major disease outbreaks) and largely based upon passive acquisition of disease occurrence data - relying upon reports from herder technicians and anecdotal reports from herders.

Studies on parasites were carried out in the two counties during 2002 - 2005. Studies on internal parasites by coproscopy indicated that their incidence, especially intestinal worms, is very serious. Internal parasites include the stomach worm Marshallagia marshalli, trichostrongyles Nematodirus spp., Trichostrongylus spp., nodular worms Oesophagostomum, bowel worm Chabertia, whipworm Trichuris, the lungworms Dictyocaulus, Protostrongylus, the tapeworms Taenia echinococcus, Moniezia and Helictometra and the lancet liver fluke Dicrocoelium dendriticum. Ectoparasites include the ticks Hyalomma detritum and Haemaphysalis bispinosa, myisasis, the sheep body louse Bovicola ovis, the sheep foot louse Linognathus ovillus, the sheep ked Melophagus ovis, warble fly Hypoderma bovis and the flea Vermipsylla.

Common infectious diseases of the yak are: pasteurellosis, anthrax, calf paratyphoid (salmonellosis) and bovine viral diarrhoea. Infectious diseases of sheep include braxy, struck, enterotoxaemia and sheep pox. Common non-infectious diseases are mastitis, trauma and eye troubles.

Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Stations at the Provincial, Prefecture, County and Township levels are responsible for overseeing and organizing all technical aspects of delivery of veterinary services. Each veterinary station is under the administrative control of its respective AAHB. The physical delivery of veterinary services is carried out by station staff (quarantine duties, outbreak investigations, supervision) and herder technicians (vaccination, parasite control and clinical services). Veterinary diagnostic laboratories have been established in the provincial, prefecture, and county levels. However, in the project area the county laboratories are poorly equipped and not used except to provide support during occasional field disease surveys or studies.

Herders are in theory organized into service cooperative groups comprising some 20 to 80 livestock-owning families, and the members of each group elect one of their number as their herder technician. Usually there is one herder technician per group in the project area. Training and technical supervision of the herder technicians are the responsibility of staff in the county and township stations. The salaries of herder technician are paid from the livestock tax levied on all herders by the county administration. County governors are responsible for the appointment, payment, dismissal and retirement of herder technicians.

The education level of herder technicians was found to vary widely: some had been trained for several weeks, whereas others have had no training at all. In the project area each herder technician takes care of 8,000 to 10,000 livestock. Each year herder technicians undertake 60 days of work, mainly vaccination. Their equipment is very poor, and they only have syringes.

Herder technicians play an important role in the veterinary system. It is necessary to improve their working conditions and salary, as well as organizing technical training to enable them to upgrade their skills so that they can carry out their duties competently. They must also be trained to improve herders’ understanding of disaster caused by disease.

Vaccination is a main measure to prevent infectious diseases. County and township veterinary stations are responsible for implementation of the annual vaccination programmes as directed by the Qinghai Agriculture and Animal Husbandry Bureau. Township stations issue vaccines to herder technicians who then vaccinate all livestock in their cooperative according to provincial policy. Staff from the township stations supervises the work of herder technicians. The vaccination programme is summarised in Table 7.

Table 7. Summary of the vaccination programme in the project area.



Class of animal vaccinated

Duration of protective immunity



All, except calves

6-9 months



In defined areas only. All, calves

9 months



All, except lambs

6 months

Sheep pox


In defined areas only.

1 year

E. coli


In defined areas only.

6 months

Notes: * Sheep are susceptible to anthrax but the recorded incidence in that species is very low and vaccination is not considered necessary nor economically justifiable.

** Contains antigens, which confer immunity to enterotoxaemia, struck, lamb dysentery and braxy.

The number of animals vaccinated in Zeku in 2005 is shown in table 8.

Table 8 Vaccination in Zeku county in 2005:

Total livestock number

Vaccinated livestock number

Vaccination density













Paratyphoid of calf




Sheep pox




The degree of coverage seems reasonable in most cases at first sight but, since herders usually report fewer animals than they actually own, the true density of vaccination is lower than that shown which is taken from the official livestock population.

The incidence of parasitic disease is still very high, and causes enormous loss of livestock production, especially in winter and during natural disasters. Because of feed scarcity, animals become weaker and are easily affected by parasites which cause large numbers of fatalities and much debilitation in non-fatal cases. Herders are expected to pay for parasite control, which was previously supplied free by the government. Many herders are currently unwilling to pay for the necessary inputs, either because they are too poor or have not yet adjusted to the new economic environment which demands a far greater degree of self reliance. There is currently a serious funding shortage for both parasite control and clinical services, to the detriment of disease control. This is causing significant, as yet only partially quantified, losses to the livestock sector.

Vaccination is the major measure for preventing infectious disease; five vaccines are provided free of charge by the government (pasteurellosis, anthrax, clostridium, paratyphoid of calf, sheep pox). Because there are gaps in vaccination cover, there is a potential risk of infectious disease outbreaks. There are three main reasons for incomplete cover. First, herders make false reports of their livestock numbers since until last year herders were taxed on flock size; although the livestock tax was abolished in 2005 the situation did not change, since the local government has a policy of controlling stock numbers to combat overgrazing and pasture degradation. The second reason is that the herder technicians lack of transport and equipment, are poorly paid, have limited time and many livestock to treat over a large area, so their work is implemented ineffectively. Third, because there have been no serious diseases attacks in recent years, some herders do not realize the importance of vaccination, and do not cooperate well with herder technicians in the vaccination programme. All these reasons cause the existence of gaps in vaccination coverage.

Several types of disease, controlled by vaccination, have a common characteristic: they are caused by bacteria which can be survive for a long time in the nature environment or in animals’ bodies. Anthrax can survive in the soil, pasteurellosis in the respiratory tract. When animals become weak, they are easily infected by such diseases which cause sickness and death.

At present, parasite control is carried out twice a year, in spring and autumn. Project field work suggests that it would be preferable to treat the animals in January using Ivermectin, which can control both internal and external parasites effectively. Winter control is better than control in spring, since it can kill the parasites in their larval stage and reduce re-infection, prevent serious infection in spring, keep animals in good health for harsh winter conditions and improve their capacity to resist serious weather events. Death of animals due to weakening by parasite infection in spring would be reduced. In places with serious parasite infestation, Ivermectin would be offered again in March or April. Some seasonally active parasites, such as the ticks Hyalomma detritum and Bovicola ovis, will be controlled more effectively by using Butox.

In the past, the products mainly used were Albendazole and Ivermectin to control internal parasites; Dipterex and pyrethrum (Chrysatheum cinerariaefolium) were used to control external parasites. Now only Ivermectin and pyrethrum will be used. Dipterex has been prohibited.


6.1 Introduction

The measures outlined so far deal principally with reducing the vulnerability of herders to long-term livelihood threats. This chapter deals with sudden severe threats to livelihood, which in Qinghai are usually caused by environmental factors such as drought or snow disasters, and how they can be managed.

Pastoral risk in Qinghai combines several elements. Summer drought may weaken the pastoral economy, and cause changes in everyday activities over the long term, making it more vulnerable. Summer drought reduces the physical condition of animals and their productivity, reduces household income, increases stress on people, animals and vegetation. But the trigger to a disaster is more often a sudden exceptional snow storm, or bad snow conditions and very low temperatures over weeks or months, which force households to take emergency measures. These measures will be much more efficient if they have been planned as far as possible in advance. The major actors will almost always be herder households and community organizations, but local and national government can support such local strategies and provide additional essential resources.

6.2 Winter preparation

Winter preparation by households, herder co-operatives, and by government, is a key risk management activity.

A well prepared household will have its own reserves of hay and concentrates. Warm and well maintained winter barns to protect adult and new born animals make an enormous contribution to helping herders cope with natural winter disasters. The four counter measures programme (4CM) has equipped most (but not all) herders in Henan and Zekou with winter barns and pens. This programme should be urgently extended to all households which have not yet participated.

6.3 Forecasting

Risk of winter-spring feed shortages and related threats

The most important cause of livelihood vulnerability for herders is insufficient feed for the household herd during the vulnerable winter-spring period each year, combined with a sudden major threat such as a severe snow disaster. Managing this threat makes it necessary to forecast two types of risk:

Both forecasts need to be made in the early autumn so that decisions can be taken about the adequacy of preparations by herders and government if the worst happens. They should be published together in a ‘winter preparedness and risk early warning’ report each autumn.

Feed balance forecast

The main sources of information on which to base the feed balance forecast are:

(i) Livestock population: An essential part of risk planning is to have an accurate understanding of the total size and distribution of the livestock population of the province. At present this is not available. Livestock population figures are at best informed estimates. At village level herders and technicians have a much better idea of the number of animals, so estimates of the adequacy of feed and fodder resources to carry the livestock population through the winter-spring period and respond to any snow emergency are much better done at the village and township/county level. The recent decision to cancel taxes on livestock will remove a key constraint to obtaining reliable information from herders about the size of their flocks and herds

(ii) State of pasture and availability of other types of feed: When RAPS is fully operational, it will provide data on fodder availability, livestock demand, potential winter-spring shortfall. Until this happens, existing pasture production and feed availability data will have to be used, including existing estimates of standing hay and other feed availability. Estimates are available in particular from the AAHB and the Meteorological service.

(iii) Animal condition: Estimates of condition of yak and sheep need to be gathered using among others the methods described by Xiaolin Luo[9] through county AAHB staff and community organizations where they are active.

(iv) Animal health: Herder technicians need to be trained to report on a small number of key indicators, including animal health.

Severe risk forecast

Existing meteorological bureau reports, especially the 3-6 month forecast, provide essential data for early warning of severe risk. The meteorological bureau also produces estimates and maps of pasture condition and trend.

6.4 Winter preparedness and early warning report

The information in the previous section will be compiled into an annual winter preparedness and early warning report, summarizing how well herders and the local authorities have prepared for winter, and what can be forecast about risks, especially weather and other environmental conditions. This report should be based on a combination of:

Potential indicators for early warning include:

Information from these and other sources will be combined into the winter preparedness and early warning report, which will be issued each autumn. The report should be prepared by animal bureau staff, technical staff from other government services such as the Meteorology Bureau, with help from herder groups and knowledgeable herders. Forecasting should be based on both an analysis of scientific information, such as RAPS outputs and remote sensing data, and also on a general qualitative assessment of key indicators. The forecast would include wherever possible the views of herders themselves about the potential threats to their livelihoods. Hard data would include forecasts of likely weather conditions for 3-6 months ahead available from Meteorological Bureau, and the remote sensing information available from the same source.

Winter preparedness reports should be prepared at township/county level initially and completed and submitted upwards to the Qinghai Bureau of Animal Husbandry according to a strict annual schedule between September and November each year.

At first this process will inevitably be imprecise. However, over two or three years, and especially when the RAPS data come on stream, it should be possible to make reasonable estimates, accurate enough for useful preventive measures to be taken in advance when necessary.

6.4 Early warning stages

Based on the evidence of the winter preparedness and early warning forecast, a system of warning stages should be introduced. Local authorities (at county level) would assign the county a warning level on the basis of their September winter preparedness report and pastoral risk forecast. The warning stages would be confirmed or modified at provincial level. The warning stages are a standardised way of summing up information from many sources into a single statement about the vulnerability of a particular area to disaster in the forthcoming winter, and the actions to be taken. Proposed warning stages are: ‘normal’, ‘alert’, ‘alarm’, and ‘emergency’

6.5 Reacting to the forecast

A high quality early warning is still of very little use if it does not trigger early, well-planned reactions.

By early autumn each year, it should be possible to estimate whether there is enough feed for the animals known to be present to last them through the following six to eight months before the natural pasture starts to grow again. Although there are many imprecise figures, and several unknowns, a pastoral risk management forecast should be able to estimate the order of magnitude of the main factors involved.

An accurate forecast of whether available feed resources, including standing pasture, hay, concentrate and other stores held by individuals, by herder organisations and by local government, are adequate to support the over-wintering of the livestock population present at the beginning of winter, is a key element of disaster management. However, knowing that there is insufficient feed for the animals is only part of the story: to reduce the vulnerability of herders to a snow or other disaster, there has to be a plan to adjust livestock numbers to the estimated over-winter livestock support capacity.

If the livestock population significantly exceeds the total feed available, herders and local authorities should decide how to maintain the balance. The option of buying in more feed may be available, although in autumn it may be expensive, especially after a forecast of severe weather. The alternative is for herders to reduce animal numbers. There are five main ways for herders to reduce livestock numbers: (i) buy more feed, (ii) increase autumn slaughter, (iii) sell more animals, (iv) emergency migration to better areas, and (v) reduce mating to reduce the number of animals born in the crucial spring period. A pessimistic over-winter forecast should trigger efforts by herder group leaders and local officials to implement one or more of these strategies.

(i) Buy more feed: The animal feed market has been liberalized for many years and feed is handled by private traders. But fodder markets are small and inefficient in these remote areas. In case of disasters the Finance Bureau will subsidize formulated feeds; the present subsidy reduces the price from RMB 1.6 to RMB 1.2 per kilo, a reduction of 25 percent but still expensive for subsistence herders. Government needs to decide whether to subsidise the feed market further in bad years, using the early warning stages as a trigger to release the subsidies.

(ii) Increase autumn slaughter: Herders can be encouraged through their associations to increase the domestic slaughter rate of their animals if an unusually bad winter is forecast.

(iii) Sell more animals: Livestock markets are inefficient at persuading herders to sell before a crisis. If the autumn risk forecast warns that there is likely to be a bad winter ahead, many herders may try to sell animals, and prices will collapse, creating a disincentive to further sales. It may be necessary for government to intervene in livestock markets in this case, to support animal prices.

(iv) Migrate to better areas: There is little or no pasture unallocated to households in winter pasture areas, so this strategy is likely to be ineffective.

(v) Reduce mating to reduce fodder demand next spring when young animals are born: This practice, apparently not known in the project area, is common and effective in several similar countries, and should be discussed with herders.

Herder associations would be able to carry out, co-ordinate or encourage some of these responses.

Managing the forecasting and early warning process

The following diagram illustrates the proposed management structure for the early warning system and the information flows.

Figure 4. Structure of the proposed early warning system

Responsibilities of county government in managing pastoral risk forecasting, early warning and rapid response

The functions and major activities that are the responsibility of county governments in the field of pastoral risk planning include:

6.6 Winter preparedness exercise

A part of the TCP objectives was to make proposals for better preparation each winter by herders and local government, and to develop and test an early warning and rapid reaction system to winter snow disaster. Through such a system, herders and local government would have an earlier warning of likely threats, more time to prepare, and greater capability to react to threats rapidly and effectively.

The project experimented during the 2004/5 winter with preparedness bulletins for Henan and Zeku counties.[10] The bulletins included a risk forecast and the outline of a simple early warning system. The results were evaluated in summer 2005, and the lessons learned will contribute to a better design for more detailed winter risk managements plan for 2005/6. The actual bulletins for Henan and Zeku is attached as Annex 5.

The chapter headings of the bulletins were as follows:

- Vulnerability profiles based on available statistics

- Level of local preparedness

An evaluation of these bulletins was carried out in summer 2005.

[2] For a detailed description of the RAPS system, see the report of the international consultant on grassland resources assessment.
[3] The TCP did not do its own research on ‘black beach’ soils or on rodents. These sections are based on summaries of the recent scientific research on these issues.
[4] J. Suttie, Hay and Straw Conservation for Smallholder and Pastoral Conditions. FAO, 2000. A copy has been deposited with the project:
[5] ‘t Mannetje, L., Silage Making in the Tropics with Particular Emphasis on Smallholders. FAO, 2000.
[6] 1 US $ = RMB 8.2 at the time of writing
[7] Xiaolin Luo, Draft Final Report, Livestock Management System. FAO
[8] Xiaolin Luo, Livestock Management System. FAO/TCP/CPR/2902. November 2005.
[9] Xiaolin Luo, Livestock Management System. FAO/TCP/CPR/2902. November 2005.
[10] The methods used to research and write these winter preparedness reports are described in a project note Winter Preparation Reports and Pastoral Risk Forecasts: Background Notes and Methods. November 2004.

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