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Interviews – Chinese and Canadian Scientists
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Many foreign scientists have been cooperating with a variety of Chinese organizations in order to study the Inner Mongolian grasslands. The World Bank and UNESCO have often funded cooperative projects. Private foreign universities exchange scholars and grants in the hope that better understanding and advanced research will preserve the grasslands.

Inner Mongolia has several advanced scientific institutions dedicated to the preservation of the grasslands. The Grassland Research Institute (GRI), of Inner Mongolia University, was established in 1963. It is one of three research institutes of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS) that focuses on the problems of forage, grassland ecology, and range management. They also have an ever expanding seed bank. Research is conducted on how to regain degraded grasslands through reseeding grasses and managing pests.

Another linked research tank, the Natural Resources Institute, is building the first permanent research station in the dry grassland. The proposed station will support pure and applied research, education of IMU undergraduate and graduate students, and production of various animal products. One senior NRI scholar described the mission of the Siziwang station and of Chinese grassland scientists in general as to increase the productivity of grasslands in order to support greater numbers of livestock.

A sister institution., the Inner Mongolia Grassland Ecosystem Research Station, commonly called the Xilingele Station, is located on the Baiyinxile State Farm, 70 km south of Xilinhot City. The Xilingele station was established in 1979 by the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

The Inner Mongolia Institute of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry, founded in 1952, is one of three institutions of higher learning administered by the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) that has a department of grassland science. The principal mission of the college is to train people with useful knowledge and skills in the fields of agriculture and animal husbandry.

The Department of Grassland Science at the Inner Mongolia Agriculture Institute has several outstanding faculty members who have been doing grassland research for many years. Since the mid-1980s they have also collaborated with foreign experts in the hopes that shared information will aid in the preservation of the vast grasslands.

Many Canadian scientists have been working consistently with Professor Han Guodong, a leading grasslands scientist at the Inner Mongolia Agriculture University in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia. The scientists have been carefully studying the grassland degradation problem. Foreign governments, such as Canada, are interested in cooperating with the Chinese to ensure the survival of the Inner Mongolian grasslands in the belief that all eco-systems are holistically connected to each other. Also, Canada has vast grasslands of her own and a wealth of information in this area.

Dr. Han at IMAU agreed to speak with me briefly regarding his research.

VS: How long have you been involved in researching the grasslands and why did you choose this field?

HGD: Since 1985 I've been studying the grassland. It is of great interest to me and I enjoy being out in the field. The environment is very important for everybody.

VS: Are the grasslands all the same?

HGD: No, there are four different ecological systems that I study: the meadow steppe, the typical steppe, the desert steppe, and the forest grassland steppe. All are unique and have different problems, different cultural norms of the ethnic groups that live upon them, and different ecological systems.

VS: Are all the herdsmen Mongolians?

HGD: Most are, about 70 percent, but a few are Han. And they all are looking for ways to live successfully with their animals. Many are now farmers as well as herdsmen.

VS: What changes have you seen in the grasslands? How can we preserve them?

HGD: About 40 percent of Inner Mongolia's grasslands are degraded now. And about 70 percent of Inner Mongolia's total environment is grassland. The rest is naturally desert. The pastures are degrading because the herders are overgrazing, either by adding too many animals or not by allowing enough time for the grass to regenerate. The land itself holds a naturally low productivity: you need more space to graze than you do to farm. So the solution, as I see it, is to both educate the people utilizing the grassland and to change the economics. We need to create another economic opportunity for these herdsmen and their families. Maybe tourism, maybe something else. There is a lot of wind energy on the grasslands. That could provide a viable source of power for some kind of cottage industry, I think.

I then spoke to Dr. Han's Canadian colleague, Dr Bruce Coulman. He was visiting Inner Mongolia as a guest lecturer in summer.

VS: What is the nature of this alliance?

BC: I have been working with IMAU through several projects, but will only report on the latest. This is a collaborating effort in teaching and research between the Plant Sciences Department at the University of Saskatchewan and Inner Mongolia Agriculture University. It is supported under the Global Partners Program of the University of Saskatchewan.
VS: Who founded it?

BC: Myself and Professor Han Guodong of IMAU in February 2006.

VS: What is your mission statement?

BC: To build teaching and research collaborations between the two institutions through visits of professors and graduate students. I am interested in international agriculture.
VS: How did you choose IMAU?

BC: I've been coming here for many years. I have previous experience with the institution and its professors, especially Dr. Han. We are both project leaders and have/will spend time at each other's institutions involved in teaching and research planning.”
VS: What particular grasslands are you looking at?

BC: No particular ones.  My expertise is in breeding and management of arable grassland plants.
VS: What has this project done?

BC: Courses have been generated and will be delivered to graduate students at IMAU. This project will continue one more year. It is funded by Global Partners fund from U. of Saskatchewan. Also contributions from the two universities to pay for expenses of visitors. By the way, there will be a very important meeting of international scientists in Hohhot. It is called International Grassland and International Rangeland Congress.
VS: Finally, what is the most significant difference between Canadian and Inner Mongolian grasslands?

BC: A greater portion of IMAR grasslands are arid. There is a much higher percentage of degraded grasslands in IMAR. Inner Mongolia and China in general is a huge grassland resource on a world basis. A fair amount of it is badly degraded. Through education and creative thinking this resource will be preserved.

( by Valerie Sartor, September 10, 2007)

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