Co-operation in Maqu

The Maqu grasslands are breathtaking, with meandering rivers that carve through olive-green fields (bright green in the summer), rising into folded mountains with snowy peaks.

They are also key to Green Camel Bell’s environmental and developmental work in the Gansu province. GCB helps to educate local residents about the dangers of desertification for their way of life, and how they can protect their land, amongst other activities.

Maqu grasslands and snow-capped mountains, seen from A Wan Cang

On this visit, GCB went to help a local group of Tibetan farmers register their specialised farmers cooperative.

The farmers were incredibly ambitious, hoping to sell all variety of Yak products (including yak’s fur, milk, butter, and meat), open a motorcycle and car repair shop, open a guest host, sell local delicacies to tourists, and even open up a small diner.

Chinese Government regulations restrict what a farmer’s co-operatives can sell however. The Green Camel Bell team consulted local authorities and laws, and advised the farmers, who agreed to specialise in producing and selling yak products.

Maqu yaks

Registering the co-op turned out to be a lengthy bureaucratic hurdle – local government edicts do not seem to correspond with central government rules, the number of required members is unclear, and it was difficult to find the right officials to answer our questions.

The complexity of setting up a co-op may discourage vital local conservation efforts: the farmers know how to care for the land, and more than anyone they know that they must maintain the grasslands in order to maintain their income.

In fact, Maqu is under serious threat of desertification caused by changes in the climate, over grazing, and mismanagement of the grasslands. Protecting the grassland is crucial to ensure food security, and the local farmers are in a good position to do this if they can make a credible living from their farms.

Empowering local residents through co-operatives can achieve a more responsible and environmentally sustainable form of economic growth in one of China’s most beautiful areas. If this is achieved here, Maqu could become an example for the Chinese countryside, and for the country.