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Chinese herdsmen nurture modern life on grassland

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The herdsman taps his mobile phone and off in the distance, the gate of his sheepfold swings open.

XinhuaUpdated: November 13, 2017

The herdsman taps his mobile phone and off in the distance, the gate of his sheepfold swings open.

"Everything is smart now on the grassland," said Mengkbaryal, 45, from Angsu Township in Otog Front Banner, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in north China.

Instead of walking or riding a motorbike to follow his herd across his grassland of 270 hectares, since 2015 his pasture has been equipped with surveillance cameras, installed with government help at a cost of about 10,000 yuan (1,500 U.S. dollars).

Through his mobile phone, he can monitor everything within five kilometers. The ranch is also equipped with automatic feeding machines and water dispensers.

After middle school, Mengkbaryal left home to work in a hotel in the northeastern city of Dalian. He returned home in 2000 and has witnessed huge changes technology has brought to the grassland.

He used to walk or ride a motorbike tens of kilometers following his herd every day.

"My wife and I spent about five hours each day just feeding the herd. Now it takes about one hour with automatic feeders," he said.

In 2000, Otog Front Banner introduced modern grazing methods. Today 16,000 hectares have been automated and annual livestock output has hit 1.4 million heads. This not only makes the lives of herdsmen easier, but raises their incomes and frees many people from a life of drudgery on the land.

In 2015, Mengkbaryal put up several gers, the Mongolian word for yurt, at his ranch and started catering for tourists. At the camp site, he offers Mongolian food and gives his guests the opportunity to try their hand at traditional activities.

Last year, he received more than 10,000 visitors and earned 300,000 yuan. There are about 70 similar sites in Angsu, but Mengkbaryal's is one of the busiest.

The government is also experimenting with a new way of managing the area. In 2015, the banner divided its 78,000 residents into 401 individually managed units. Mengkbaryal became the manager of his unit. His work includes collecting basic information on residents, resolving disputes and providing support for the elderly and left-behind children.

Mengkbaryal's domain has 39 households, and most of the troubles are related to grassland and livestock, much as they have been for a long period of time.

In the recent past, the herdsmen often took their problems to higher authorities like the township government. If they were resolved at all, it often took a very long time, according to Zhang Haigang, an official with Angsu Township.

Life was improved, but Mengkbaryal and many other herdsmen were worried that the status of the land may change when their contracts run out and their business might suffer.

Since the early 1980s, property rights associated with rural land have been divided into two layers: ownership (collective ownership by a rural community, normally a village) and use (held by an individual household under contract from the village). The current round of use contracts expires at the end of 2027.

Mengkbaryal was relieved by a report at the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China last month that rural land contract practices would remain unchanged in the long-term and the current round of contracts would be extended for another 30 years upon expiration. Since that news, many herdsmen in Angsu have decided to expand their ger sites.

Mengkbaryal and others are also thinking about e-commerce. In 2018, Angsu will invest 1 million yuan in an e-commerce platform for herdsmen who can sell their dairy products and specialties.

"We herdsmen now have more ways to make money and I believe our lives will get better and better," said Mengkbaryal.