Course:CONS370/Projects/Traditional natural resources management practices in Tibet

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This Wiki page discusses the case study of traditional natural resource management practices in Tibet by the indigenous people known as the Tibetans. They are composed of many related native ethnic groups who share similar linguistics and cultures. The purpose of this case study is to address the land issues faced by the Indigenous Tibetans and to discuss the allocation of power within the stakeholders involved in this case study. We will specifically look into the Nagchu prefecture (an area in Tibet Autonomous Region).


Description of the community forestry case study – Where located; history; national or regional context (if appropriate)

History of Tibet and the Takeover by China

Tibet is a nation filled with a rich history. It is located in East Asia and is located within the boundary of the nation-state of China. It existed as an independent state with its own unique culture, language and religion. However, after the creation of the new Chinese Communist Party in 1950, the CCP declared that Tibet must become a part of China permanently. China invaded Tibet in 1950s. Inside its border and across the world, Tibetans have never stopped believing Tibet is a nation. Tibetans still resist China’s rule and defy its oppression after more than sixty years of invasion and occupation.[8]

The reasons the Chinese government wanted to take over Tibet could be divided into two parts. One is about natural resources. Tibet has high biodiversity and rich natural resources. To take over Tibet represents a big increase in available resources for the Chinese government. Tibet‘s rivers supply fresh water to billions of Asia’s people. Its natural resources prop up China’s global power. [8] The second part is about political influence. Tibet is not only sharing its boundary with China but also India. The influence could be exerted by India, but would be resisted economically, culturally, or politically after Chinese takeover of Tibet. [1] In October 1950, 40,000 Chinese troops invaded Tibet and forced the present Tibetan government (which was led by a teenage Dalai Lama) to recognize China’s policies and regulations, and in return, allowed Tibet to retain its autonomy. [1]

Figure 1. The figure above shows the territory of Historical Tibet and the Tibet Autonomous Region. Tibet should be the world’s tenth largest nation instead of a part of China.

However in 1959, China failed to keep its promises and hundred of thousands of Tibetans fearing that the Dalai Lama might be kidnapped/assassinated surrounded the Palace to protest against the People’s Liberation Army's invasion.[15] China did not take too kindly with that and later on, the PLA invaded, slaughtering tens of thousands of people. However, the Dalai Lama were able to flee to India where they have long maintained a government-in exile.[15]  This was a turning point in Tibetan history.

In February 2018, China’s Public Security Bureau in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) declared a list of Tibetan traditional activities and social activities to be illegal. This list of illegal activities includes local initiatives for environmental protection, language, preservation, and dispute mediation that encourages support for the exiled Dalai Lama or for Tibetan independence.[7] The police also decreed that any kind of support for the Dalai Lama’s proposal that aims to increase Tibet’s autonomy is officially counted as a crime. [7] Environmental groups are still allowed in some areas in Tibet, mainly located in the East part of Tibet. However the environmental groups and other social community initiatives in the western part of Tibet have been restricted. More than one million Tibetans have died as a result of China’s occupation. [8] Under China’s occupation, Tibet has been divided up, renamed and incorporated into Chinese provinces.

Figure 2: Nagchu Prefecture, Tibet Autonomous Region. Data source: Conservation and Society (Jul/Sep 2017)

Later on, we will be using the term pastoralism. Pastoralism defined by is:

“the branch of agriculture concerned with the raising of livestock. It is animal husbandry: the care, tending and use of animals such as camels, goats, cattle, yaks, llamas, and sheep. "Pastoralism" generally has a mobile aspect, moving the herds in search of fresh pasture and water. Pastoralism is a successful strategy to support a population on less productive land, and adapts well to the environment”. [5]

Profile of the Tibetan Communities in Nagchu

Population Characteristics

Nagchu is located at the South of the Tanggula Mountains and the North of the Nyenchen Tanglha Mountains. It has a total area of 450,537 km2 (173,953 square miles). [2]

From 1980 to 2000, the population of Nagchu increased from 238.6 thousand to 362.8 thousand. The rapid population growth led to the increasing demand for resources including land. Therefore, the land use shift, especially for grassland, is inevitable.[10]

The area of study is the Pelgon county and has a total population of 38,186. Ninety-nine percent of its population is made up of Tibetans. The distribution and proportion of people that is Tibetan in Pelgon are much more than in most of the remainder of Tibet. There are now more Chinese people in parts of Tibet than Tibetans and Tibetans are becoming a minority in their own country.[8] 91% of the population in Pelgon are pastoralists who depend on the pastoralism of sheep, goats, yaks and horses to survive. [3] The Nagchu prefecture had seen rapid economic growth in recent years, leading to the result of being urbanized. [4]

Socio-Economic Characteristics

Nagchu prefecture consists of ten counties including Pelgon and one special area. Among all its ten counties and one special area, there is only one county that is semi-agricultural and semi-pastoralist. All the rest nine counties and one special area are dominated by pastoralism.

As of 2017, the regional GDP in Nagchu was 11,982 million yuan (around 1,775 million US dollars). [2] Prior to 1959, pastoralists bartered with their butter, wool, salt and livestock with other farmers from other parts of Tibet and the Himalayan countries. Currently they usually purchase goods, mostly from markets. [3]

Nagchu Prefecture, Tibet Autonomous Region. Data source: Conservation and Society (Jul/Sep 2017)

Figure 3. Pastoral landscape near the center of the Tibetan plateau. [9]

Environmental Characteristics

[put quotation marks around the text that you have taken from other sources]. The areas of the Tibetan Plateau populated by nomadic herders are regarded as non-equilibrium ecosystems, with climate variability, snowstorms, droughts and other natural disturbances acting as the main mechanisms causing changes in the ecosystem. [11] For many decades, these cyclical disasters maintained a balance between livestock carrying capacity and vegetative growth. [12] In a harsh environment, the pastoralists use a series of measures to manage the pastures and their livestock. [13] Tibetan grasslands constitute one of the most important grazing ecosystems in the world. Distributed widely across the high plains and mountains of the Tibetan plateau, these grasslands encompass the source areas of many major rivers in Asia. [9] As mentioned above, Tibet’s rivers supply fresh water to billions of people in Asia and its natural resources prop up China’s global power. [8] To be specific, about forty percent of the total population of the world depends on Tibet’s rivers or is influenced by those rivers. [9] Nagchu has an area of 34,172,300 km2 that is grassland. This grassland area occupied 79.5% of the total land area of Nagchu, and also occupied 42.2% of the total grassland area in Tibet Autonomous Region. [10] Nagchu is, therefore, the major grassland pastoralism base of Tibet Autonomous Region. Pastoralism that is based on grassland has been responsible for around 50% of the total GDP of Nagchu for decades. [10] However, due to the mismanagement of grassland resources, grassland environment has deteriorated drastically.

Tenure arrangements

Tenure arrangements. Describe the nature of the tenure: freehold or forest management agreement/arrangements, duration, etc.

Rights and Ownership

Prior to the 1959 Reform

For most cases, all land in China (including rangeland) belongs to the state. Livestock are owned privately. Collective or group tenure arrangements have persisted across most regions' seasonal pastures. Prior to the Chinese Reform in 1959, rangeland was used and owned communally where the lands were shared by the people at a tribal level while the herding, raising of cattle and migration were done on an individual family level.[3] Taking the study of one research village that was a part of the Sepa Tribe, cross-tribe grazing and camping were not the norm because there weren’t as many families, meaning they had access to a large grazing land, thus no shortage of forage for the livestock. They didn’t need to migrate as much and could stay in one pastoral area due to the amount of resource available before moving due to weather changes. [3]

After the 1959 Reform and Prior to the People’s Commune

Figure 4: Rangeland use history of Tibet (Yundannima 2007)

In the early years of the 1959 reform, rangeland access and the traditional production system underwent little change throughout the prefecture. The establishment of a new five-level Chinese administrative structure was implemented and started to replace the old Tibetan administrative structure. Each village operated as a Zuk (group) under the Sepa Township [3]. The government started introducing ways to improve production. However despite these efforts, this did not really bring a dramatic change in the traditional production system as the pastoralists were protected by the 30-point policy which stated that could keep on doing what they did before.[3]

During the People’s Commune 1975-1984

During the establishment of the People’s Commune which was the highest of three administrative levels in rural areas[14], rangeland access continued to remain the same throughout the prefecture[3]. This hierarchy in the commune system consisted of several production brigades whose individuals were responsible for its share of the output delivery quotas put out by the central plan [6] and a brigade was composed of several production teams which consisted of day-today production activities such as herding and migration [3].

Reform and Post-Reform Era

One major part of the early Chinese economic reform began in 1978 in the agricultural sector. Known as the Rangeland Household Responsibility System (RHRS) also known as Rangeland use rights privatization, it was initiated into the system of pastoralism in order to prevent the degradation of rangeland and avoid a tragedy of the commons scenario. In the early 1980’s the Chinese government started disbanding communes and replacing them with townships which finished by 1985 [3] in the Tibet Autonomous Region. The result was that many old townships prior to the reform was restored with the same rangeland and households. In many cases, rangeland was still used communally at the township level.[3] But in the case study area rangeland use has been based on the administrative village, resulting in pastures being shrunk. However, this did not seem of a problem to these pastoralists as they had enough land that is neither desirable nor feasible for them to move somewhere else [3].

Administrative arrangements

Administrative arrangements. Describe the management authority and the reporting system.

Though Chinese government has imposed its own version of “autonomy” under its national policy for minority groups, the so-called “autonomy” has achieved very little of what it promises. The position of Tibetans has evolved from cries for independence in the early years of exile to calls for “genuine autonomy” now. Chinese officials view Tibetans' loyalty to the Dalai Lama as a threat. China’s national-minority autonomy policies are promulgated in their current form in the 1982 PRC Constitution and in the Law on Regional National Autonomy passed in 1984, and revised in 2001. [19]

In summary, Tibetan is under the unfair control of Chinese government in the aspects of culture, policy, economics and social activities.

Affected Stakeholders

Social actors (stakeholders, user groups) who are affected stakeholders, their main relevant objectives, and their relative power

Tibetans Communities/ Households

The affected stakeholders are basically the households as county officials generally make the decisions. They do not have the power to make decisions, and generally they have that much procedural rights which is when decisions makers consult them before implementing, but the affected stakeholders do not get the final say.

Tibet Natives

But if you look beyond that, we can say that the Tibetans are greatly the ones affected. Tibetans have protested for its independence since the take over by the CCP in 1950,. However the Chinese government denies all accusations of oppression in Tibet as a myth and that they are taking very good care of them. In practice, decision-making is usually concentrated under the ethnic Han CCP officials. [16] and the ethnic Tibetans who have senior positions often act as figureheads and have no major role in decision making.[16]. This is evident with the increased presence of Han Chinese infrastructure and construction projects such as hotels, and highways. I believe that the overall reason for this is to slowly eradicate/dilute the Tibetan culture with main Chinese cultures.

Another major problem Tibetans are facing is the severe pollution caused by the extraction of natural resources. There are many cases where the pollution from extraction has caused serious harm to the environment. Take 1 case where the the wastes from lithium mines were flushed into the Lichu river where it caused contamination of drinking water and mass death of fish [17]. Another case is the poisoning of the river near local Tibetans of Dokar through the leakage of waste by the nearby Copper Poly metallic mine. This affected their way of living as it polluted the water used for their drinking, irrigation and feeding their livestock. [17] Despite protests by the Tibetan communities, the Chinese government completely shut down these protesters through violence and arrests [17]. Taking all these cases in account, I can safely assume that these Tibetans hold absolutely no power in decision making.

Interested Outside Stakeholders

Social actors (stakeholders, user groups) who are interested stakeholders, outside the community, their main relevant objectives, and their relative power

United Nations

China has affirmed acceptance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is widely accepted and considered reflective of customary international law. It includes the rights to freedom of association, peaceful assembly, expression, and participate in the cultural life of the community. While the TAR’s [decode this acronym] notice and regulation in terms of Tibet have clearly and systematically violated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.[7]

Chinese Government / Infrastructure Companies

The Chinese government are the biggest interested stakeholders as they hold all the power in terms of decision making. Their main objectives is to use the land's natural resources. They are interested in developing infrastructure and improving the area for more tourism and economic activity. They recognize that Tibet is a unique place in the world and they want the entire world to come and recognize all these historic buildings and the history behind this country. However, the main problem is that this led to the demolition of homes and expulsion of nuns and monks. Many are fearing that development will only act as a detriment to Tibet cultural sites and begin to slowly dilute Tibetan culture.[16]


A discussion of the aims and intentions of the community forestry project and your assessment of relative successes or failures. You should also include a discussion of critical issues or conflicts in this community and how they are being managed

The Problem with Rangeland Use Rights Privatization

In the case study area of the Pelgon County, the policy of rangeland use rights privatization was implemented in 2004 [3]. The county officials offered 4 options of using the grazing land which included rangeland use on a household basis, collectively by groups of households, collectively by the natural village or collectively by the administrative village [3]. The problem is that one of the options could seem infeasible for certain locations. Take example of village 1 who went with option 1. During this time, many families ended by losing the majority of their livestock due to option 1 restricting the mobility of livestock, causing vegetation to disappear more quickly, resulting in inadequate forage and eventually lowered productivity [3]. On the other hand, village 2 accepted a policy which combined both the household rangeland tenure with community-based use with user fees. The tradeoff for paying a user fee is that poorer families are able to earn some money off their land for sharing their land with richer families, while at the same time not leave the rich families worse than before. Another thing is the guarantee of mobility and flexibility of livestock [3].

“While privatization in itself may not be a cause for concern, it is often followed by exclusivity in terms of use. This exclusivity can again be viewed as increasing rangeland fragmentation and may have as one of its consequences the restriction of the movement of people and livestock, again limiting pastoralists’ access to resources that vary over time and space As a consequence, both pastoralists and their animals have had their options reduced for responding to temporal variations in terms of both vegetation and precipitation.Rather than helping to alleviate possible problems related to climate change, governmental policies seem to exacerbate them by reducing the pastoralists’ ability to respond to spatiotemporal variation in vegetation and climate flexibly” (Kelmanm and Lamadrid 111). In short, privatization of rangeland has made it difficult for pastoralists to make communally rational decisions in response to changing climate.


Your recommendations about this community forestry project

As all things degrade, maintaining and improving rangeland pastoralism for livestock and wildlife is a major concern for mostly every community in Tibet. Along with the threat of environmental pollution, major management is needed to improve these policies.


1. Tibet’s History. (n.d.). Retrieved from

2. Nagqu. (n.d.). Retrieved from

3. Yundannima, Yonten N. "Rangeland use Rights Privatisation Based on the Tragedy of the Commons: A Case Study from Tibet." Conservation and Society, vol. 15, no. 3, 2017, pp. 270-279.

4. Nagchu to be Tibet Autonomous Region's sixth prefecture-level city. (2019, April 05). Retrieved from

5. Definitions for pastoralism.pas·toral·ism. (n.d.). Retrieved from

6. Lawrence, J.Lau.  Huanhuan, Zheng. “How much slack was there in the Chinese Economy Prior to Its economic Reform of 1978.” China Economic Review, Volume 45, September 2017, pp. 124-142

7. "Illegal Organizations" | China's Crackdown on Tibetan Social Groups. (2018, July 30). Retrieved from

8. Introduction to Tibet. (n.d.). Retrieved from

9. Foggin, J. M. (n.d.). Depopulating the Tibetan Grasslands. Retrieved from

10. WANG, Ya-jun, Xing-hu WEI, and Ping YANG. "Effects of over-grazing on vegetation degradation of Kobresia pygmaea meadow in Nagqu, Tibet." Journal of Lanzhou University 1 (2005).

11. Miller, Daniel J. "Nomads of the Tibetan Plateau Rangelands in western China. Part Two. Pastoral production practices." Rangelands Archives 21.1 (1999): 16-19.

12. Hua, Xiao-bo, et al. "Factors influencing the grazing management styles of settled herders: a case study of Nagqu County, Tibetan Plateau, China." Journal of Mountain Science10.6 (2013): 1074-1084.

13. Miller, Daniel J. "Tough times for Tibetan nomads in western China: snowstorms, settling down, fences and the demise of traditional nomadic pastoralism." Nomadic Peoples (2000): 83-109.

14. Rebellion in Tibet. (2009, November 24). Retrieved from

15. People's commune. (2018, November 14). Retrieved from's_commune

16. Shaw, S. (2017, August 03). China Tears Down the Tibetan City in the Sky. Retrieved from

17. Tibet: Pollution and Misuse of Natural Resources Have Led to Severe and Worsening Environmental Poverty. (n.d.). Retrieved from

18 . Lamadrid, A., & Kelman, I. (Eds.). (2012). Climate Change Modeling for Local Adaptation in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan Region. Climate Change Modeling For Local Adaptation In The Hindu Kush-Himalayan Region Community, Environment and Disaster Risk Management, 11, 111. doi:10.1108/s2040-7262(2012)0000011018

19. Davis, Michael C. “The Quest for Self-Rule in Tibet.” Journal of Democracy, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1 Nov. 2007,

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