HAMI, Xinjiang – In a bid to protect eight key scenic spots in Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, pasturing is now banned for five years, according to the regional animal husbandry bureau.
The five-year-long “returning grazing land to grassland” project, which began this year, covers 100,000 hectares of grassland in eight key scenic spots, including Kanas and Tianshan Tianchi, said Zhao Xinchun, chief specialist of pasturage at Xinjiang Animal Husbandry Bureau.
Local herdsmen are being compensated for their loss of grazing and get an annual subsidy of 750 yuan ($116.5) per hectare of grassland.
According to Zhao, the pasturing ban is “urgently required”, as long-term overgrazing has caused severe degradation of the grassland and a marked decline in its herd-carrying capacity.
Uyoup, a traditional Uygur herdsman at the Baishitou scenic spot in eastern Xinjiang’s Hami prefecture, has seen firsthand how the grassland has degraded over the past 30 years.
“The grass was more than 1-meter tall 20 years ago. But it has become shorter and shorter with the increase in population and livestock,” he told China Daily in front of his yurt, which was about 1 kilometer away from the scenic spot’s entrance.
The 35-year-old herder raised 200 sheep in 2005, but now has only 30 sheep and four cows in his contracted two-hectares of grassland.
“The government does not allow us to raise cattle on the pasture, and nearly 98 percent of herders have been relocated,” he said.
Together with his wife and parents, the herder also runs a small entertainment business offering traditional food, yurt accommodation, and horse riding for visitors.
Uyoup’s family has lived on the grassland for five generations and he said that he doesn’t think he can make a living without pasture and cattle.
“Business is quite good. We can earn 50,000 yuan a year. But I can’t help worrying about the future,” he said. “Although I am reluctant to leave my pasture, I understand the government’s activity and will make my own effort to protect the grassland,” he said, adding he will move out in October.
Over 200 herding households in Baishitou township have moved out and there are now only five herding households left.
The local government has offered public welfare posts in the city of Hami for herders who stop grazing and want to relocate. Each herder who gets a post will receive a monthly wage of 1,050 yuan.
The local government has also built free 50-square-meter apartments for each family, as well as providing them with 0.47 hectares of land to cultivate fodder.
“In the past, my five-member family used to earn 15,000 yuan a year herding 200 steers. But now, my wife and I work as cleaners in Hami and we earn nearly 3,000 a month,” said Toleku, a former herder who moved out of the scenic spot at the beginning of 2011.
“To be frank, I still can’t get accustomed to the new urban life. But living in the city is much more convenient than on the pasture. My three children will receive a better education in the city,” said the 45-year-old Uygur man.
The 100,000 hectares of grassland in the eight key scenic spots are the main summer herding areas as well as the key sightseeing spots in Xinjiang. And this year, the regional government has granted 180 million yuan to different pastures around Xinjiang to implement the ‘returning grazing land to grassland’ project, said Zhao.