How rural land use management facilitates drought risk adaptation in a changing climate — A case study in arid northern China

Lei, Y. D. Z. et al., 2016. Science of the Total Environment

Original research (primary data)
View External Publication Link


Under a warming climate, frequent drought and water scarcity in northern China have severely disrupted agricultural production and posed a substantial threat to farmers’ livelihoods. Based on first-hand data collected through in-depth interviews with local managers and farmer households, this study evaluated the effectiveness of rural land use management in mitigating drought risk, ensuring food security and improving farmers’ livelihoods. Our findings indicate that a) reforestation on low-yield cropland not only can improve the ecoenvironment but can also prominently mitigate the production risk to local farmers; b) replacing the traditional border irrigation with sprinkler irrigation has substantially curbed agricultural water usage and increased the per unit of output; and c) in recent years, instead of planting water-intensive grain crops, local farmers cultivated more forage crops to raise animals, which greatly diversified their income sources and reduced the drought risk of agricultural production. By performing an empirical case study in drought-prone Inner Mongolia, this study provides decision-makers with insights into how to strategically adapt to drought risk and reduce rural poverty within the broader context of climate change.

Case studies

Basic information

  • Case ID: INT-223-1
  • Intervention type: Created habitats
  • Intervention description:

    Grain for green - the cen- tral and local governments have provided a large amount of subsidies to encourage farmers to plant trees instead of crops in their low-yield slop- ing farmland. Farmers in Youyi Village actively responded to this pro- gram and gradually abandoned their crop production on steep slopes. At the end of 2012, a large area of artificial forests existed in Youyi Village three main tree types in Youyi Village: Hippophae, Caragana, and Populus. Note that also in the area: In this region, another measure to deal with drought is the develop- ment of water-saving irrigation. This initiative aims to shift drought management from securing reliable water sources to improving irriga- tion efficiency (Sun et al., 2012). After 2001, farmers in Youyi Village began to introduce sprinkler equipment and developed sprinkler irriga- tion circles (Fig. 1(d-2)).

  • Landscape/sea scape ecosystem management: Yes
  • Climate change impacts Effect of Nbs on CCI Effect measures
    Drought  Positive Income provided by the government subsidies (buffering against drought impacts) Ecological pressure – takes into account water demand of forests versus total precipitation to determine how resilient the land-use is to drought
  • Approach implemented in the field: Yes
  • Specific location:

    Youyi Village in Xinghe County, Inner Mongolia

  • Country: China
  • Habitat/Biome type: Created forest |
  • Issue specific term: Not applicable


  • Notes on intervention effectivness: Drought was causing negative impacts on income because crop yields were low. After converting cropland to forest, the income generated from the subsidies provided by government was higher than income from crops, helping people be more resilient to drought. Also by calculating ecological pressure of the forests and finding they were resilient to drought, meant that switching to this land-use was less risky than using crops which had a greater ecological pressure We collected first-hand data through in-depth interviews with local managers, questionnaire surveys on farmer households, and farm- level land use surveys. quantify the economic incomes of farmers under various land use modes
  • Is the assessment original?: Yes
  • Broadtype of intervention considered: Not applicable
  • Compare effectivness?: No
  • Compared to the non-NBS approach: Not applicable
  • Report greenhouse gas mitigation?: No
  • Impacts on GHG: Not applicable
  • Assess outcomes of the intervention on natural ecosystems: No
  • Impacts for the ecosystem: Not reported
  • Ecosystem measures:
  • Assess outcomes of the intervention on people: Yes
  • Impacts for people: Unclear
  • People measures: suggest that "Although our data indicate that local farmers are economically better-off after a series of changes in land use patterns, their adaptive capacities are still inade- quate when confronted with extreme droughts and unpredictable cli- mate changes. In the long-term, the government should promote farmers' access to climate information, markets, social capital and tech- nology, which would allow farmers to make proactive adaptations rath- er than reactive changes in their farming practices." data generated through interviews with local managers and local households. don't make a firm conclusion one way or another so unclear for social benefits
  • Considers economic costs: Yes
  • Economic appraisal conducted: No
  • Economic appraisal described:
  • Economic costs of alternative considered: No
  • Compared to an alternative: Not reported

Evaluation methodology

  • Type of data: Quantitative
  • Is it experimental: No
  • Experimental evalution done: Not applicable
  • Non-experimental evalution done: Empirical case study
  • Study is systematic: