Setting up wetland nature reserves is the traditional way to conserve them. However, sustainable utilization of wetlands, particularly in plateau areas, has not been sufficiently explored, and this restricts local community participation in conservation efforts.
Conservationists and scientists have started in recent years to make attempts to find alternative ways of protecting wetlands by using community incentives.
In December 2015, Green Watershed was awarded the UN’s prestigious Equator Prize for its conservation initiatives with local communities in the Lashihai wetlands. The main contribution of the organization was to assist in the local community’s environmental conservation efforts through poverty reduction. NGO founder Yu Xiaogang told NewsChina that involving local people in sustainable use and protection of wetland resources is key to maintaining the function of wetlands in the ecosystem.
In western Sichuan Province, also part of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, scientists, as well as conducting research, have started innovative ways of finding alternative livelihoods for local communities in regard to wetland preservation. Shiqu County in Sichuan is located at the source region of a few major rivers and boasts an alpine wetland area of over 1.1 million hectares.
Since 2016, a joint community training program conducted by the local government in Shiqu, Sichuan Province and the Chengdu Institute of Biology was launched among local Tibetan pastoralists.
“Yaks are the key source of income for local people within the region, however local nomads don’t much use yak wool – the quality is comparable to cashmere – as an income source,” said Zhu Dan.
“So we helped the local government by introducing weaving techniques from Nepal to Shiqu to improve local livelihoods, while also mitigating the common problem of overgrazing on the grasslands.”
The project started its second round of training in September 2018 in Shiqu, producing high-quality shawls made of local yak wool.
“We want to promote our products abroad, and hopefully this new attempt can successfully provide sustainable income for local community,” Zhu said, who also coordinates the yak wool training and processing project. “As a scientist, I believe finding alternative ways to improve local livelihoods is also an effective way to conserve wetlands apart from conventional measures.”
Tashi Nyima, 25, a nomad from Maga Township in Shiqu County who recently trained as a weaver, told the reporter that he was one of the 17 local nomads trained to make yak wool and also in loom weaving techniques.
Previously Tibetan nomad families ranged across the plateau with their yak herds that could number as many as 200-300, but since the early 2000s, herd sizes have been reduced in the name of ecological protection. Since much of the grasslands have been fenced off, many former nomad families have moved to townships and their herds have been reduced to around 20 yaks, not enough to support a family.
Tashi’s family also only has around 20 yaks left, so his family, like many others, now relies on collecting caterpillar fungus for use in traditional medicine for two months of the year.
With the downsizing of livestock herds and no industry, according to Tashi, the environment in his hometown along the Jinsha River, as the upper reaches of the Yangtze are known, has improved significantly in recent decades.
“But we don’t yet have a good way to sell our yak wool,” Tashi, whose family still lives below the national poverty line of 2,300 yuan (US$331) per person per year, told NewsChina, “So we expect this yak wool processing industry will bring much more benefits to our local community.”
Climate change and the escalating impact of human activity continue to pose increasing threats upon local environments, challenging the sustainable development of the alpine pastureland. “The goal is to introduce Nepalese handicraft techniques as a new way of green development, thus securing the sustained preservation of local wetland resources,” Zhu Dan said.