Breivik, Irene. 2007. THE POLITICAL ECOLOGY OF GRASSLAND CONSERVATION IN QINGHAI PROVINCE, CHINA: DISCOURSE, POLICIES AND THE HERDERS. MA thesis, Norwegian University of Life Sciences , Department of International Environment and Development Studies, NORAGRIC


This study explores a degradation discourse, grassland conservation policies and empowerment of herders living in Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in the eastern part of the Tibetan plateau, Qinghai Province, China where environmental conservation policies are affecting the livelihoods of livestock herders. There is strong emphasis on grassland degradation. The situation was analysed from the perspective of political ecology focusing on environmental discourses and power relations. Field work enabled assessment of a prevailing Chinese grassland degradation discourse, the conservation policies and herders’ responses, positions and participation in grassland management. Discourse analysis showed that the Chinese grassland degradation discourse largely explains grassland degradation as a problem of overgrazing. Other causes are also central, but special attention is given to the problem of overgrazing. Herding practices are blamed for causing such overgrazing, and the conservation policies revolve around livestock and grazing control. The current policies are negatively affecting herding and other livelihood practices, and as the conservation policies are causing herders to be marginalised in several ways, herders’ rights and self-determination should be addressed. The situation in Yushu Prefecture is the result of a state that is strongly interventionist and which constrains herders’ say in herding and grassland management. Central components of the herders’ practices are changing with the current policies, causing their approach to grassland management, seasonal grazing, to be lost. Therefore, as government regulations of and control over herder practices increase, the herders’ participation in decision-making in grassland management decreases. Herders’ traditional practices are, however, important for grassland management; recognising the value of their knowledge is necessary to increase their empowerment. Herders’ traditional practices may also show to be necessary for sound grassland management. If the state is to play a more constructive role in grassland conservation, it should integrate and strengthen, not undermine, the herders’ roles in grassland management.