BEIJING, May 6 (Xinhua) -- The Chinese government has announced to implement a subsidy and reward program for the country's herdsmen over the coming years in order to reverse and prevent damage that has been done to China's grasslands because of climate change and overgrazing.
The country's finance and agriculture ministries on Thursday jointly announced that the program will officially start this year in eight of China's provincial-level regions, including Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Tibet, Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu, Ningxia and Yunnan, as well as Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps.
The program will also be the nation's largest in terms of funding and coverage in over 60 years, according to government officials.
"From this year on, the central government will allocate special funds to subsidize herdsmen following the prohibition of grazing in some areas. The funds will also be used to reward those who have made progress in preserving the ecology of the grasslands," said Xie Xuren, Minister of Finance.
The budget for this program is set to reach 13.6 billion yuan (about 2.1 billion U.S. dollars) this year, Xie said.
China has about 6 billion mu (400 million hectares) of natural grasslands, the second-largest in the world in terms of area. Climate change, excessive grazing and rural development have caused damage to 90 percent of these grasslands.
"Xinjiang has 860 million mu of grasslands, 40 percent of them have severely degraded. Grass yields have shrunk by 30 to 50 percent," said Zhao Xinchun, an agricultural official from northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
"The protection and construction of grasslands cannot wait any longer. We urgently need to expand investments and policy support to protect the ecology of the grasslands," said Zhao.
Under the program, China will prohibit herdsmen from allowing their cattle to graze on severely damaged grasslands, but will instead give them each an annual subsidy of 6 yuan for every mu of prohibited grassland.
The budget will also reward herdsmen if they make efforts to preserve grasslands that are still available for grazing.
Finally, the program will offer an annual subsidy of 500 yuan to households in rural areas to help them purchase diesel oil and cattle feed.
"The program will cover 1.02 billion mu of grasslands in Inner Mongolia. It is unprecedented both in terms of coverage and funding. It marks a new era in China's protection of its grasslands. But at the same time, it focuses on improving herdsmen's livelihoods," said Ji Dacai, an agricultural official from the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.
Government officials said the subsidy and reward program aims to balance the costs that herdsmen would typically pay for grassland protection programs with their incomes.
They also said the program will not affect meat production, stating that China is currently changing its animal husbandry practices and will promote enclosed herding.
Han Changfu, Minister of Agriculture, said China will support the construction of enclosed herding areas and ensure a steady supply of meat for the market, as well as a stable income for farmers.