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Grasslands Remain Under Threat
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Research conducted for China's Grassland Sustainable Development Strategy, made public recently by the Ministry of Agriculture, displays a trend with some of the country's grasslands being improved while on the whole the situation is getting worse and the ecological position of the grasslands remains threatened, the People's Daily reported on May 8.

The Ministry of Agriculture organized hundreds of grass, agriculture and ecology experts to conduct the research last year.

China has nearly 400 million hectares of natural grasslands ranking second in the world only behind Brazil. The area of grasslands accounts for 13 percent of the world's total and 41.7 percent of the entire country. The grasslands are 3.2 times that of cultivated ground and 2.5 times more than the country's forests, according to the research.

After implementing the policy of reform and opening up to the outside world in 1978, China has sped up the development of the grassland industry, standardized the protection and usage of grassland resources and promoted gradual ecological development. The grassland economy is developing steadily; related industrial science and technology is progressing; grassland disaster prevention and control capabilities have been strengthened and laws and regulations on their protection improved.

By the end of 2005 the total area of new grasslands had reached 13 million hectares, the area of improved grasslands 14 million hectares and fenced grasslands stood at 33 million hectares.

For about 20 percent of usable grasslands local governments have already imposed regulations on how they should be used for livestock. More than 70 percent of the usable grasslands have been contracted for management by local herdsmen households.

However, the research found that a lack of awareness of the importance of grass development had remained. The conflicts between grassland conservation and usage are still sharp. The input in scientific and technological support is insufficient and the guarantee system is imperfect.

In north China the number of animals in grassland areas is 36 percent more than the grassland capacity allows. As a result the production capabilities have dropped continuously, with the current average grass output being one to two thirds lower than that in early 1960s.

More than 90 percent of the country's usable natural grasslands have degenerated to varying degrees through among other things desertification and salinization, according to the research. The area of desolated land is expanding at an annual rate of 262,000 hectares, most of which are in dry grassland regions. The volume of silts produced from the grasslands accounts for 35 percent of the silt found in the Yangtze River. Since 1950s the area of cultivated grasslands has grown to about 20 million hectares with nearly 50 percent of it becoming desolated or desert.

The research indicates that the strategic thinking on sustainable development of grass resources should switch from economic effectiveness to identification of the economic, social and ecological efficiency with ecological considerations being the top priority.

Efforts must be made to improve production techniques of animal husbandry and change the lifestyles of farmers themselves in grassland regions so as to give full play to the grassland industry in safeguarding ecological security and guaranteeing food safety and supply, the research indicates. 

( by Li Jingrong, May 11, 2006)


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