Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region is encouraging 600,000 herdsmen to settle into jobs or take up farming in the hope of preserving more of the region's grasslands, the regional government has said.
By 2010, about 600,000 of the region's one million herders are expected to take up farming or be offered blue-collar jobs, the regional stock breeding department said in a press release.
It said the move will preserve the local ecology and increase the income of the former nomadic people.
"Overgrazing by livestock is now a universal problem in Xinjiang," said Zhang Xinshi, an academician with the Chinese Academy of Sciences and member of a research team on Xinjiang's ecology and sustained development.
The growing farm product processing and mining industries in Xinjiang have created more jobs and many county governments have provided vocational training to prepare herders for jobs at on production lines, according to the regional labor and social security department.
Fuyun County in Altay Prefecture has trained nearly 20,000 herders as cooks, drivers, mechanics and electricians.
Along with vocational training, herders in the southern prefectures of Kashi and Hotan are also learning to speak standard Mandarin Chinese.
It's all part of a plan to ensure at least one person in each family has a job within the next five years.
Xinjiang's herders reported a per capita income of 2,737 yuan (US$330) last year, only one third of the average disposable income of the urban workers, according to the local statistical bureau.
"A blue-collar job at local factories will pay at least 9,600 yuan (US$1,230) a year," said Dilare, a top official in Jiashi County, Kashi Prefecture. "Experienced workers can make twice that amount."
Xinjiang has 48 million hectares of grassland, where farms, industry and growing urban centers compete for space with the region's 60 million head of cattle.
(Xinhua News Agency April 29, 2007)