China: Agricultural and Pastoral Landscapes in the Mountainous Districts of the Upper Watershed of the Yangtze River
SUBMITTED ORGANISATION :
United Nations University Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability (UNU-IAS); Japan Wildlife Research Center (JWRC)
DATE OF SUBMISSION :
China (Sichuan Province)
This study was commissioned to be included in the publication “Socio-ecological Production Landscapes in Asia”. This chapter provides an overview of SEPLS practices in the highlands of Sichuan Province as an example of landscape-management practices in the region.
Pastoralism, Yi people, agriculture
Japan Wildlife Research Center (JWRC); Kaoru Ichikawa (UNU-IAS), ed.
The summary sheet for this case study is available here.
Natural and Social Background
[Note: this case study originally appeared in the publication Socio-ecological Production Landscapes in Asia.]
Anning River, a tributary of Yangtze River, runs through the central part of the Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan Province from north to south, and its valley is surrounded by steep mountains. Xichang, the capital of the prefecture, is located about 360 km southwest of Chengdu, and its altitude is a little less than 1,600 m above sea level. The city has an average annual temperature of 17.0°C, and there is a clear distinction between the rainy and dry seasons with 92% of the city’s average annual precipitation of 1,033 mm concentrated in the rainy season from May to October. According to Köppen’s climatic classification, the prefecture has a steppe climate. The climate in the valley of the Anning is characterized by its remarkable vertical variation due to the substantial difference in altitude. The altitude of Miyi County, located downstream from Xichang, is at the 1,100 meter level, and its climate is close to sub-tropical with an average annual temperature of around 20°C. In this county, it becomes considerably dry not only in the dry season, but also in the period up to early summer as is typified by the fact that the amount of evaporation exceeds the precipitation. In contrast, the mountainous district, which is above 3,000 m, has a cool-temperature climate with an average temperature at less than 8°C. These changes in temperature due to altitude can be observed in the vertical distribution of the vegetation (see Table 1). The timberline runs at a height of around 3,400 m above sea level, and declines to 3,200 m in areas where the wind is strong. The vegetation consists of prostrate Yunnan pines (Pinus yunnanensis), oaks (Quercus monimotricha), which grows as a shrub, and bamboo grass (Fargesia pauciflora). In the cool temperature zone, where the altitude ranges from 2,600 m to 3,400 m, it comprises a mixture of needleleaved trees such as fir trees (Abies spp.) and spruce (Picea spp.) and broad-leaved ones such as Chinese red birch (Betula albo-sinensis) and Rhododendron spp. At heights of 2,600 m or lower, it is composed of trees of the warm-temperature zone with the 2,000-2,600 m zone dominated by a mixture of deciduous broad-leaved and needle-leaved trees, the 1,600-2,000 m zone by deciduous broad-leaved trees, and the zone below 1,600 m by evergreen broad-leaved trees (JICA, 2002). Particularly on the southern slopes lower than 1,600 m, trees cannot grow properly because it is too dry. Mammals that live in this area include wild boars, sambars, Chinese pangolins, and jungle cats. In addition, the highlands in Liangshan Prefecture are home to pandas and lesser pandas, both of which are designated as endangered species (Category IB).
Table 1. Major Components of the Vegetation and Tree Species in Liangshan Prefecture by Altitude
In 2010, Liangshan Prefecture, which occupies an area of 60,000 km2, had a population of 4.78 million (population density: 79 persons/km2). Originally, the Yi were dominant in this region, but the number of Chinese who have migrated to this region since the 1950s has continued to increase. Ethnically, they account for the majority of the population at 54%, with the remaining 43% accounted for by Yi, 1% by Tibetans, and 2% by other minorities. Historically, since the Three Kingdoms period in the third century, the Yi have come to live in mountainous districts and on highlands due to the pressure of the Chinese from the lowlands. Liangshan Prefecture can be divided into two major spheres of life with Xichang City forming their boundary. While the lowlands and flatland in the valley of the Anning are inhabited by Chinese farmers, the mountainous districts and highlands, which are located in the upstream reaches of the river and are largely 2,000 m above sea level, are populated by the Yi. The population density of villages 2,000-2,700 m above sea level is 43 persons/km2, and that of villages at 2,700 m above sea level or higher is 26 persons/km2. Villages exist at altitudes of up to 3,500 m above sea level.
From the 1950s to 1980s, the Chinese government took the initiative in promoting forest development. It considered the logging and development of national forests as one of the financial resources for building China as a new socialist country and developed natural forests on an extensive scale (Yorimitsu, 2003). As a result, forests in the upstream and middle reaches of the Yangtze and the Huang were destroyed, causing flood disasters in the downstream regions. A disastrous flood in 1998 led the government to adopt a policy of prohibiting the logging of natural forests in the same year, marking a major shift in its forest policy. Today, afforestation is being promoted through government policies in various parts of the country. Government policies include the “Returning Farmland to Forests” policy, which aims to turn cultivated land into forest land as a measure to prevent agricultural land from being developed by farmers on steep slopes, and the “Closing Hills for Afforestation” policy, which aims to control pasturage and develop the forests.
Agricultural and grazing system in the high-elevation zones
The Yi have developed an agricultural and grazing system that combines grazing and cold-hardy crops suitable for highelevation zones and have maintained agricultural and grazing landscapes even in steep mountains while preventing landslides. Yi agricultural and grazing landscapes, which combine cold-hardy crops and pasturage, are scattered in various places on land above 2,000 m with an area of approximately 40,000 km2 (Photo 1). The following descriptions are based on the results of a socioeconomic survey conducted mainly in the valley of the Anning in 2001 (see Table 2). According to the statistics of municipal governments in five administrative units (Xichang City as well as Zhaojue, Xide, Dechang, and Miyi Counties) covered by the survey, 13% of the land (86,000 ha) in ten villages in these administrative units was used for agricultural land, 30% for grasslands, and 44% for forests, and 13% was accounted for by wasteland and land used for other purposes.
Challenges and Responses
With the increasing elevation of the land, the demand for fuel materials grows. A comparison of the average annual amount of fuel materials consumed per household indicates that 0.7 tons of brushwood is collected and consumed for firewood in the warm zone below 2,000 m, 3.3 tons in the 2,000-2,700 m zone, and 6.6 tons in the zone above 2,700 m. Brushwood is used for cooking, boiling of food crops for pig feed, and heating. Large amounts of fuel materials such as brushwood are consumed by highland settlements, making the improvement of fuel efficiency an issue yet to be addressed. Efforts are being made to introduce improved kitchen stoves, but the Yi perceive their existing three-stone stoves as a tradition. Improved kitchen stoves also have such problems as being inferior as nighttime lighting or heating systems.
Japan International Cooperation Agency. 2002. Survey for the Afforestation Plan in the Valley of the Anning River in the Chinese Province of Sichuan, p.330.
Matsushima, N. 2004. A study on regional and tribal differences of deforestation in the Anning Watershed of the upper Chang Jiang, China. Bulletin of the Graduate School of Social and Cultural Studies, Kyushu University. 10, p.49-67.
Shang, F. and Seki, Y. 2003. “Returning Farmland to Forests Policy in China and Residents in Povertystricken Areas”. From Destruction to Reconstruction- From Asian Forests. Yorimitsu, R. ed. Nihon Keizai Hyouronsha Ltd., p.149-209.
Yorimitsu, R. 2003. “The Destruction and Reconstruction of Forests in East Asia”. From Destruction to Reconstruction – From Asian Forests. Yorimitsu, R. ed. Nihon Keizai Hyouronsha Ltd., Tokyo, p.1-20