The RETPEC Project

Range enclosure on the Tibetan Plateau of China

This EC-Funded research project, which started in March 2007 and will end in 2011, is investigating the biophysical and socio-economic impacts of policy-driven land use change in China’s semi-arid regions. Range enclosure, livestock intensification and nomadic settlement are being implemen ted by the Chinese government at a scale involving millions of people and vast areas of land. The rationale is to restore degraded land, prevent desertification and improve pastoral welfare.

The project examines the current performance and likely future success of these policies in meeting their stated goals. This assessment compares measurable indicators of vegetation, livestock productivity, land use, household incomes and wildlife biodiversity in enclosed versus unenclosed systems of rangeland management.

Qualitative methods will evaluate the social, cultural and economic repercussions of policy. Participatory techniques involving local stakeholders will be integrated with field data, ensuring incorporation of indigenous knowledge and local concerns and to contextualise quantified data. Technical and socio-institutional innovations and best practices will be identified and evaluated in collaboration with stakeholders. For international science, changes in grazing intensity given the sheer size of the Tibetan plateau makes this work significant for understanding global climate change and carbon sequestration.

Across the Tibetan plateau, the project will compare regions representing five ecological zones in Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai and the Tibet Autonomous Region. Proposed field sites reflect the gradation of fencing intensity - from unenclosed rangelands to private fencing of all pastures. A hierarchical research design begins with analysis of national policies, their application at local administrative levels, field site investigations of biological parameters at community level and, finally, detailed surveys of individual households and flocks.

It is probable that no single system of grazing and rangeland tenure is optimal under all conditions in a heterogeneous environment constituting half of the rangeland area of China. Our goal is to identify forms of management appropriate to specific market and ecological conditions, to engage Chinese policy makers, and to improve the capacity of the Chinese scientific community to influence their government's rangeland development policies.

Garden Tiger Moth photographed by Gabor Pozsgai



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