Strategies to alleviate poverty and grassland degradation in Inner Mongolia: Intensification vs production efficiency of livestock systems

David D. Briske, Mengli Zhao, Guodong Han, Changbai Xiu, David R. Kemp, Walter Willms, Kris Havstad, Le Kang, Zhongwu Wang, Jianguo Wu, Xingguo Han, Yongfei Bai

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

109 Scopus citations


Semi-nomadic pastoralism was replaced by sedentary pastoralism in Inner Mongolia during the 1960's in response to changes in land use policy and increasing human population. Large increases in numbers of livestock and pastoralist households (11- and 9-fold, respectively) during the past 60yrs have variously degraded the majority of grasslands in Inner Mongolia (78M ha) and jeopardize the livelihoods of 24M human inhabitants. A prevailing strategy for alleviating poverty and grassland degradation emphasizes intensification of livestock production systems to maintain both pastoral livelihoods and large livestock numbers. We consider this strategy unsustainable because maximization of livestock revenue incurs high supplemental feed costs, marginalizes net household income, and promotes larger flock sizes to create a positive feedback loop driving grassland degradation. We offer an alternative strategy that increases both livestock production efficiency and net pastoral income by marketing high quality animal products to an increasing affluent Chinese economy while simultaneously reducing livestock impacts on grasslands. We further caution that this strategy be designed and assessed within a social-ecological framework capable of coordinating market expansion for livestock products, sustainable livestock carrying capacities, modified pastoral perceptions of success, and incentives for ecosystem services to interrupt the positive feedback loop that exists between subsistence pastoralism and grassland degradation in Inner Mongolia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)177-182
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
StatePublished - Apr 1 2015


  • Pastoral livelihoods
  • Pastoralism
  • Poverty trap
  • Social-ecological systems
  • Sustainability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


Dive into the research topics of 'Strategies to alleviate poverty and grassland degradation in Inner Mongolia: Intensification vs production efficiency of livestock systems'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this