Just before Christmas my colleagues Judith Schleicher and Zeng Jun joined me on a visit to Lake Aibi in order to visit Kokobasto, a Kazakh nationality village situated north of the lake and within the Lake Aibi Nature Reserve in China's far north-western Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. When I last visited the village (as mentioned briefly in my rant about goats and an accompanying YouTube film), I was told that herders from the high summer pastures to the north came down to Kokobasto during the winter along with their livestock.
I had wanted to meet them and discuss herding practices, even though it was a particularly cold and bleak time of year. In fact those shifting herders no longer come to Kokobasto, and my following YouTube film documents some of the meetings we had with a selection of the 250 inhabitants who live permanently in the village.
The villagers feel part of Tuoli County, Tacheng Prefecture, to the north, and they have their livestock grazing permit from there. But they actually live and herd their livestock in the nature reserve, which lies wholly within Jinghe County, Bortala Prefecture.
The local governments have tried several times to negotiate a solution to this discrepancy, but it is still unresolved, simply because no new grazing land in either Tuoli or Bortala can be provided to the villagers by either party. The Bortala government has agreed to resettle the villagers if they want to move and committed to provide them with better living conditions.
Despite the prohibition of grazing in the nature reserve, the villagers graze their livestock on a strip of very low quality rangeland (5 km in width and 31 km in length) in the conservation area; they simply have nowhere else to go. The total livestock the village included 1,300 goats and sheep, 120 cows, 30 horses and 30 camels. This is a very high stocking rate and the rangeland used is severely overgrazed.
According to the head of the village, only 13 of the 51 households can feed their families by livestock grazing, and the other 38 households need off-farm income to cover their basic living needs. During household visits, villagers told us about the limited sources of income and their wishes to have their children educated. The interviews confirmed the vulnerable nature of their economic situation.