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How can social and environmental services be provided for mobile Tibetan herders? Collaborative examples from Qinghai Province, China

Tibetan herders have lived for centuries in the high grasslands of Central Asia, yet many development programs are currently transforming their lives. One of the main assumptions of government policy, in China and around the world, is that the provision of social services is best provided in settled, urban environments. Such drastic changes from traditional pastoral livelihoods, however, may introduce some less-desired outcomes, including high levels of unemployment, loss of hope and cultural loss. Social stability may be affected, and in numerous instances it has been observed that the originally desired benefits (especially the provision of social services such as health care and education) have not been achieved.

The case study presented here seeks to demonstrate that social services can be provided to Tibetan herding communities in rural (remote) areas of the Tibetan plateau, at the same time as encouraging and enabling genuine partnerships between local herders and higher-level conservation authorities such as the Sanjiangyuan National Nature Reserve. An analytical approach borrowed from ‘participatory action research’ and a modified ‘balanced scorecard’ framework has assisted in project evaluation.

With the commitment of key stakeholders, and with sufficient time allowed for trust and understanding to develop, it is possible for various forms and styles of partnerships (collaborative management) to be developed, such that both national conservation goals as well as local development goals may be achieved simultaneously. Further trials of such a collaborative approach should be encouraged, leading to expanded application throughout the Sanjiangyuan region in the future.