Sustainable livestock grazing in Western China
Professor David Kemp and Dr Karl Behrendt have undertaken research to support the Chinese government to restore nearly 400million ha of degraded grasslands. This is having economic and social benefits for impoverished herders whose livelihoods depend on this land.
"Our program came down to helping them find ways to improve their grassland, restore it back to a more productive state, and to also try and improve the income of herders."– Prof David Kemp
China has almost 400 million hectares of grasslands, 90 per cent of which is regarded as degraded. Sixteen million people in North-Western China rely on these grasslands for their livelihood. Long-term use of these grasslands and the wellbeing of the people require changes in grazing practices, supported by policy change.
A program of research by David Kemp and Karl Behrendt, working with collaborators from Australia and China, has explored biological and economic sustainability of grassland livestock production systems. Coming from the program are evidence-based practices to improve grazing management in Western China.
Chinese policies to improve household incomes and rehabilitate the degraded land have been supported by this research, and Chinese herders have been adopting sustainable management practices which will reduce grazing pressures and improve net financial returns from livestock.
"It's about giving the herders … things to do that will make impact at low cost."– Colin Langford, Sheep management specialist
The research followed a systems approach, looking at the different factors that might be adapted to practically improve grasslands. By taking a holistic approach, the research found that the key was to reorganise the way livestock is produced.
Animals are severely limited by feed supply across China. Modelling revealed that for most farms, up to half of their animals costed more than they would return in income. Grazing experiments showed that a 50 per cent reduction in stocking rates was needed to improve and sustain the grasslands. Modelling also showed that better nutrition of livestock meant higher net incomes.
The program revealed that for the nine months when temperatures are at, or well below zero, animals lose less weight if kept in warm sheds. This is now very common across northern China.
Through the use of six demonstration farms and three control farms in Inner Mongolia, and a program of training and engagement with herders and officials, the research showed how herders could generate much more income from their production while also substantially reducing the demand on their land.
Engaging with all levels of people necessary to bring about change in China – herders, academics and officials at all six levels of government.
Research run with case study communities, on demonstration farms, means improvements from changing practices can be experienced first-hand by herders.
Long term funding from successive Australian governments.
Findings from the research helping to secure research funding for Chinese collaborators.
Changing herding practices through practical advice and training.
Reducing pressure on degraded grasslands through reduced stocking rates.
Increasing economic and social wellbeing for some of China’s poorest people.
Influencing Chinese agricultural policy for long term sustainability.
"Grassland environment got better and local herders net income increased because we found the trade-off between grassland condition and local economic enhancement."– Professor Han Guodong, Dean, College of Ecology and Environmental Science, Inner Mongolia Agricultural University
The strength of the partnership between the team from Australia and the Chinese institutions is continuing to grow. The program of research is continuing, extending into Mongolia in a new project.
Professor David Kemp has worked in the subtropics and temperate zones on pastures, grasslands, crops (wheat), forage and livestock production systems. The aim of recent work has been to devise cost-effective, sustainable management practices for livestock production from degraded grasslands, in western China, Mongolia and Australia.
Dr Karl Behrendt has over 20 years’ experience in agribusiness management consulting, extension and research. He is the Australian representative and lead researcher in the international agri benchmark network, undertaking international comparative analysis of Australian beef and sheep farms.
Funding and collaborators
This program has predominantly been funded by Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) with some specific components from t h e Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and the Australian Greenhouse Office.
Partner organisations in China: China Agricultural University, Gansu Grassland Ecological Research Institute (Lanzhou University), Gansu Agricultural University, Inner Mongolia Agricultural University, the Institute for Grassland Research (Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences – CAAS), Research Centre for Rural Economy (Ministry of Agriculture), and the Institute of Environment and Sustainable Development for Agriculture (CAAS).
CSU aims to create a world worth living in
This research is contributing to the development of sustainable solutions in agriculture and water resources while enhancing the biodiversity of our environments and strengthening ecosystems.