Ecological Carrying Capacity

Land Resource Carrying Capacity in Xilin Gol Grassland Transects: A Perspective on Food Nutritional Demand

  • YANG Wanni 1, 2 ,
  • ZHEN Lin , 1, 2, * ,
  • LUO Qi 1, 2
  • 1. Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101, China
  • 2. University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China.
ZHEN Lin, E-mail:

Received date: 2019-07-01

  Accepted date: 2019-08-15

  Online published: 2019-12-09

Supported by

The National Natural Science Foundation of China(41671517)

The National Key Research and Development Program of China(2016YFC0503700)

The Strategic Priority Program of Chinese Academy of Sciences(XDA20010202)


Copyright reserved © 2019


Food safety is an important issue for the development of the national economy and society. Studying regional food supply and demand from the perspective of land resource carrying capacity can provide new references for regional resource sustainability. This study uses the data from farmer and herdsmen household questionnaires, statistical data, land use data, and other sources to construct a land resource carrying capacity (LCC) assessment framework, targeting the food supply and demand of residents in representative areas, specifically the typical grassland pastoral areas, sandy pastoral areas and agro-pastoral areas on the Xilin Gol grassland transects. The three food nutritional indicators of calories, protein and fat were selected for analyzing the balance of land resource carrying capacity. We found that: 1) Along the Xilin Gol grassland, the main local food supply showed a shift from meat and milk to grains, vegetables and fruits. 2) From north to south along the grassland transects, the calorie intake increased gradually, while the intake of protein and fat was highest in pastoral areas and lowest in agricultural areas. 3) The overall land resource carrying capacity of the Xilin Gol grassland transects was in a surplus state, but the land carrying capacity of typical grassland pastoral area was higher than the two other types of areas. This study provides an empirical reference for the sustainable development of regional food nutrition.

Cite this article

YANG Wanni , ZHEN Lin , LUO Qi . Land Resource Carrying Capacity in Xilin Gol Grassland Transects: A Perspective on Food Nutritional Demand[J]. Journal of Resources and Ecology, 2019 , 10(6) : 614 -620 . DOI: 10.5814/j.issn.1674-764X.2019.06.006

1 Introduction

Food safety is an important issue for the national social and economic development. It is an important strategic basis for national development (Xie et al., 2017). However, with the continuing development of the economy and society and the increasing population, there has been a diversified development trend in food consumption (Bolortestseg and Tuvaansuren, 1996). The demand for food is not only reflected in quantity, but also in type and structure (Zhen et al., 2010). As the human food consumption demand increases, the pressure on land is gradually increasing. The contradiction between land, food and population has become a hot topic in society and academia, and studies on land carrying capacity have attracted increasing attention.
Current studies on the carrying capacity of land resources mainly focus on regional scale and assessment methods (Feng, 1994; Zhai et al., 2006; Liu et al., 2011). Feng et al. (2017) studied the relationship between food consumption changes and natural resource disturbance in Xiong’an New District, and it provided new insights and suggestions for the development of water resources around the region and the development of land resources. In addition, that study also combined the evaluation of resource and environmental carrying capacity with the preparation of a natural balance sheet and developed the method and technical system for the compilation of a natural resource balance sheet and the evaluation of resource and environmental carrying capacity. Technical standards/norms, digital service platforms for the R&D of natural resource balance sheet preparation and resource environmental carrying capacity evaluation are being applied to national demonstration zones and form corresponding supporting policies and recommendations to provide technical support and policy recommendations for governmental departments (Feng et al., 2016). Gao et al. (2017b) studied the characteristics of food supply and consumption in Tibet, China, and conducted preliminary research on Tibet’s land carrying capacity. That study found that the grain supply in the whole region of Tibet is relatively high, especially the ability to transfer food from outside regions is increasing. The production capability has been continuously enhanced, and the level of Food safrty in Tibet has been improved. Niu et al. (2018) reviewed and assessed the methods for evaluating resource and environmental carrying capacity. However, many believe that the current understanding of resource and environmental carrying capacity is not unified, and there are differences among the evaluation methods. Most research focuses on the evaluation of individual factors, while research on the interaction mechanisms between resources and environmental factors and socio-economic factors, and the comprehensive evaluation of regional resources and environmental carrying capacity are weak. In addition to the carrying capacity of land resources, the study of resource carrying capacity includes water resource carrying capacity, ecological footprint, carbon emissions, and many other related factors (Du et al., 2015; Hu et al., 2015; Zhen et al., 2017; Gao, 2017a).
Xilin Gol League is located in the central part of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, the most part of the Xilin Gol Grassland is in the Xilin Gol League. During the crossing of Xilin Gol Grassland, it is one of the four major pastures in China that runs from north to south. It is composed of typical grassland areas, sandy land and agro-pastoral areas. The food consumption of residents in Xilin Gol League shows typical characteristics of residents in China's grassland areas. However, there are relatively few studies on food consumption in the Xilin Gol grassland and research on the characteristics of land carrying capacity in food production areas which consider the characteristics of dietary nutrition are scarce, though they could contribute a great deal toward understanding the regional development issues. In this study we attempt to: 1) analyze the food supply quantity and nutrient structure characteristics of residents in different typical areas of the Xilin Gol grassland; 2) analyze the similarities and differences of the structural characteristics of food consumption needs of the different typical areas in sampled grassland areas; and 3) use the framework of the land resource carrying capacity to assess the characteristics of land carrying capacity status from the perspective of the current dietary nutrition of rural residents in the Xilin Gol Grassland. This study provides a unique reference for the development of regional sustainable development policies related to food nutrition.

2 Methods

2.1 Study area

The Xilin Gol League is in the central part of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, China. It belongs to the Mongolian Plateau, with an altitude of 800-1800 m. Annual precipitation is 288 mm; annual evaporation is 1700-2600 mm; and the annual average temperature is 3.60°C. It is comprised of two county-level cities, one county, nine banners and two districts. By the end of 2016, its total registered population was 1.036 million, and 35.50% are rural residents. People of Han nationality are 6.67×105, accounting for 64.20% of the population; the 3.25×105 people of Mongolian nationality account for 31.30% of the population; while other ethnic minorities only account for the remaining 4.50%. Total land-use area is 2.03×105 km2, including 1.80×105 km2 of grassland and 5.86×103 km2 of forest land, accounting for 89.90% and 7.10% of total land-use area, respectively. Grassland is the main land-use type in the Xilingol League. The main crops in the League include wheat, corn, buckwheat, potatoes, flax and others. Cattle and sheep are the main livestock raised in this region, and they provide abundant mutton and beef for the residents. In 2016, the per capita disposable income of residents of the Xilingol League was 25554 yuan, of which the per capita disposable income of urban residents was 12903 yuan, and that of rural residents was 13188 yuan.
The Xilin Gol Grassland is situated on the Mongolian Plateau, while most of its area lies within the Xilingol League. Land-cover types of the Xilin Gol Grassland can be divided into three groups: typical grassland, desert grassland and cultivated land and sporadic grassland. The carrying capacity of these grassland land-use types gradually decrease, exhibiting a gradient change from north to south, which delineates the Xilin Gol Grassland transects.
Three representative study areas were selected in this study, including a typical pastoral grassland area, a pastoral area in the Hunshandake Sandyland, and an agro-pastoral transitional zone (Fig. 1). Within these study areas, we selected “Sumu”1 ( “Sumu” is the administrative town-level system used in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region of China.) towns where people primarily work in the animal husbandry industry, the farming industry or a mixed animal husbandry/farming industry as study sites. Proposed sampling and stratified random sampling were used to choose the specific sites that were studied. First, we used the proposed sampling method to determine the scope of the survey. According to the three typical types of grassland transects, combined with population, economic and traffic conditions, the towns (or Sumu) were selected. Second, we determined the study sites using stratified random sampling to select towns and villages from among the qualified towns/Sumu. In the end, we selected one Sumu (Bayan Hushu Sumu) in a typical pastoral grassland area and five Sumu (towns) in the Hunshadake Sandyland pastoral area (i.e., Sanggendalai Town, Shangdu Town, Saiyinhuduga Sumu, Baoshaodai Sumu and Naritu Sumu) as well as three towns in the agro-pastoral transitional zone (i.e., Hongqi Town, Baochang Town and Xingfu Town) as the study sites.

Fig. 1 Study area and investigation sites

2.2 Data collection

2.2.1 Primary data collection
Data used for this study were gathered from household surveys conducted within the study area from August 5 to August 21, 2017. The questionnaire was designed to collect the food consumption data in the study areas. It included questions about the basic information for the family, the family daily food consumption structure and quantities, family planting or breeding status, and other relevant information.
Considering the sparse population of the study sites (i.e., a population density of 0.2 people km-2) and the expansive distances between households, a random sampling method was used to select the farmers and herdsmen for our field survey. We randomly selected a route in the study area for conducting the questionnaire survey of farmers and herdsmen who we met along the route.
Approximately 60 farmer or herdsmen households were given the questionnaire survey in each of the selected study sites. This provided a total of 184 farmer and herdsmen households in nine different towns (or Sumu) and 24 villages (or Gacha1( “Gacha” is the administrative village-level system used in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region of China.)) that were included in our survey (Fig. 1). Of the 184 questionnaires, 175 were valid questionnaires. The effective rate of response to the questionnaire was 95.1%.
2.2.2 Secondary data collection
Spatial data included land-use data and point pattern analysis data. Land-use data (1 km×1 km) were obtained from the Data Center for Resources and Environmental Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences ( This data was based on Landsat 8 remote sensing images and was generated by manual visual interpretation. Point pattern spatial data were derived from positioning data recorded by the Global Positioning System (GPS) at the time when the household survey was being conducted.

2.3 Data analysis

2.3.1 Analysis of food nutrition
The dietary intake of farmers and herdsmen is mainly analyzed from three aspects, including calories, protein and fat. The nutrient contents of the main foods consumed by rural residents in Xilingol League are shown in Table 1 (Wang et al., 2019). According to the table of food nutrient contents (Institute of Nutrition and Food Safety, 2009), the results of the three indicators of calories, protein and fat in the food supply and food consumption in our study areas are calculated, and the regional land carrying capacity is calculated based on this result.
Table 1 Nutrient contents of main foods consumed in study area (content per 100 g of edible food)
Food type Calories (kcal) Protein (g) Fat (g)
Wheat 339.0 11.9 1.3
Oat flour 376.0 12.2 7.2
Rice 347.0 7.4 0.8
Corn 112.0 4.0 1.2
Millet 361.0 9.0 3.1
Potato 77.0 2.0 0.2
Vegetable 20.5 0.3 1.5
Fruit 53.8 0.7 0.2
Pork 395.0 13.2 37.0
Beef 125.0 19.9 4.2
Lamb 203.0 19.0 14.1
Chicken 167.0 19.3 9.4
Duck 240.0 15.5 19.7
Milk 54.0 3.0 3.2
Milk tofu 305.0 46.2 7.8
Egg 144.0 13.3 8.8
Duck egg 180.0 12.6 13.0
Fish 103.0 16.6 3.3
Cake 348.0 8.6 5.1
Liqueur 52.0 0.3 0.2
Sugar 400.0 0.0 0.0
Tea 283.0 14.5 4.0
Butter 835.0 0.0 92.0
Peanut oil 899.0 0.0 99.9
Corn oil 895.0 0.0 99.2
Flax oil 900.0 0.0 100.0
2.3.2 Land carrying capacity evaluation framework
This study focuses on the sufficiency of the local food resource supply capacity for local residents' food consumption demands, so the supply data is the data on production of various foods. The supplies of food, vegetables and fruits, meat and milk, oil and non-staple foods were used as supply indicators. Furthermore, calories, protein and fat were used as consumption indicators for constructing a land carrying capacity (LCC) and land carrying capacity index (LCCI) assessment framework.
Among them, the land carrying capacity reflects the relationship between the regional population and food, which can be expressed as the size of the population that can be supported by regional food productivity under certain food consumption levels:
LCC=Qs / C
where LCC is the land carrying capacity (per capita); Qs is the total regional food production (kg), using the total amounts of calories, protein and fat that can be supplied by the three typical areas of the Statistical Yearbook of Xilingol League in 2016; C is the per capita food consumption, using the data from the household survey results of the typical farmer and herder households in 2017, and also the calculated data on the calorie, protein and fat consumption per capita in each year.

3 Results

3.1 Food supply characteristics

According to the actual situation of the study areas, the main types of food consumed by the residents are divided into four categories for calculation and analysis: grains; vegetables and fruits; meat, eggs and milk; and oil and non-staple foods. In terms of structure, the three defined zones exhibit different structural characteristics (Table 2).
The local food supply of West Ujimqin Banner is mainly vegetables, fruits, meat and milk, and its meat supply is the highest among the three typical areas. The food supply of Zhenglan Banner is mainly milk, vegetables and fruits, and the meat supply is only the second highest. The grain supply is higher than that of the West Ujimqin Banner, and Zhenglan Banner has certain self-sufficiency. The food supply of Taibus Banner is mainly vegetables, fruits and grains, and the supply of meat and milk is quite low, while the oil supply is the highest among the three study areas.
From the perspective of nutrient supply structure, the calorie supply gradually increases from north to south along the grassland transects. The total calorie supply of Taibus Banner is eight times that of West Ujimqin Banner (Table 2). On the one hand, this is due to the high calorie value of food. and oil in Taibus Banner, which also has the highest food supply in terms of tons. On the other hand, Taibus Banner’s population is 2.6 times higher than West Ujimqin, and a relatively sufficient labor force can provide more food production and supply to the region (Table 3). In addition, the fat supply of Taibus Banner is also the most abundant among the three typical areas, mainly due to the high proportion of the oil supply. Zhenglan Banner and West Ujimqin Banner are both pastoral areas, and their populations and occupational composition ratios are very similar to each other. However, the protein supply in Zhenglan Banner (7.2×107 t) is much greater than in West Ujimqin Banner (1.6×107 t), mainly because local people in Zhenglan Banner primarily raise cattle, which can provide a more abundant meat and milk supply, and thus protein supply, which is far higher than both of the other areas
Table 2 The amount of food supply and its conversion to nutritional status
Study areas Product(t) Nutrition
Grains Vegetables
and fruits
Meat Milk Oil Calories(kcal )Protein(g) Fat(g)
West Ujimqin Banner 75 6769 48167 24492 0 15646464 1446180 952256
Zhenglan Banner 29472 77330 34716 278000 1464 72009402 7771484 2390106
Taibus Banner 193857 608100 18073 33000 26879 124327949 3378256 4078830
Table 3 Meat supply and basic conditions of residents in the study areas
Study areas Population Nationality (%) Vocation structure (%) Livestock structure
Cattle Sheep
West Ujimqin 80220 Han (19.60)
Meng (80.40)
Animal husbandry (95.89)
Others (0.41)
37.92 267.96
Zhenglan 83951 Han (56.70)
Meng (37.30)
Hui (6.00)
Animal husbandry (97.00)
Others (3.00)
29.69 63.82
Taibus 210041 Han (94.90)
Meng (5.10)
Animal husbandry (6.80)
Planting (74.60)
Working outside (18.60)
1.12 0.49

3.2 Food nutrition demand characters

Based on the results of the questionnaire survey of farmers and herdsmen, the food consumption needs of residents in the study areas were analyzed (Table 4). The daily calorie intake of residents increased from north to south along the grassland transects, but the protein and fat intake levels obviously show that in the pastoral areas (i.e., West Ujimqin Banner and Zhenglan Banner) levels were higher than in the agricultural area (i.e., Taibus Banner). Among the three, the food and nutrient intakes of the residents of West Ujimqin Banner were calories 8.7×104 kcal, protein 4052 g and fat 4269 g. The food consumption of residents in Zhenglan Banner was 1.1×105 kcal, 4306 g of protein and 5291 g of fat. Residents in Taibus Banner had intakes of 1.1×105 kcal of calories, 3222 g of protein and 3162 g of fat. Therefore, the food nutrition intakes of the people living in the agro-pastoral transition zone showed characteristics of high calories, low protein and low fat; while the food nutrition intake of pastoral residents showed high calories, high protein and high fat (Fig. 2).
Table 4 Average per capita annual food consumption demands of residents, regional LCC and LCCI in the study areas.
Study area Consumption structure LCC LCCI
Calories(kcal) Protein (g) Fat (g) Calories
Protein (g) Fat (g) Calories
West Ujimqin 86900 4052 4269 180052 356899 223080 0.45 0.22 0.36
Zhenglan 110203 4306 5291 653423 1804746 451752 0.13 0.05 0.19
Taibus 112071 3222 3162 1109365 1048494 1289987 0.19 0.20 0.16

3.3 Land carrying capacity valuation

From the food supply and consumption demands of residents in the study areas as the starting point, the regional land resource carrying capacity was analyzed. Overall, the land resource carrying capacity of the three typical areas on the Xilin Gol grassland transects was found to be in a surplus state (all LCCI<0.5) (Table 4). In terms of regions, West Ujimqin Banner has the highest LCCI, which was reflected in the calorie, protein and fat LCCI each being the highest of the three typical regions. This shows that although West Ujimqin Banner has the largest land area and the lowest population density among the three study areas, its low food supply and its high-calorie, high-protein and high-fat food intake characteristics lead to its regional land resource pressure being the highest among all three areas.
In contrast, although the Taibus Banner has the smallest land area and the highest population density among the three study areas, due to its location (in the agro-pastoral zone), the regional food supply is relatively rich, and the residents' food intake is high in calories but relatively low in protein and low in fat, which makes the land resource carrying pressure relatively low in Taibus Banner (Table 4).
While Zhenglan Banner is also located in the pastoral area, the food intake demand of the residents also shows high-calorie, high-protein and high-fat characteristics. However, since its meat consumption is dominated by beef, and the regional agricultural focus is mainly on raising cattle, this results in the demand for grassland being lower and the meat production being higher. All of these factors make the land resource carrying pressure relatively small in Zhenglan Banner, so the LCCI is relatively low, and the carrying capacity is more than sufficient in Zhengllan Banner (Table 4).

Fig. 2 Food and nutrient intake of residents in the study areas

4 Discussion

4.1 Food consumption patterns may pose high risks to health

Food consumption patterns reflect the consumption and occupation of resources by human activities (Zhen et al., 2010), while food consumption of regional residents is affected by local supply conditions (Hadjikakou, 2017; Reynolds et al., 2015). In the Xilin Gol Grassland, the food consumption of residents shows a strong dependence on the local grassland ecosystem, and the food consumption structure and nutritional characteristics are greatly affected by the local ecological supply. The development of animal husbandry in the grassland area makes the supply of beef and mutton relatively sufficient (Liu, 2015), so local residents tend to consume more meat, which also promotes the high-protein and high-fat characteristics of food consumption in pastoral residents. Further, this may cause regional residents to be more prone to high blood pressure, high blood fat and other diseases associated with such a diet.
In addition, the food consumption patterns of residents in a given region has exerted varying degrees of impact on the carrying capacity of regional land resources. The high-fat, high-protein, high-calorie pastoral model has increased the pressure on regional land resources. Through the study of the food consumption of Tibetan herders, this feature was also found in the food consumption pattern of herdsmen in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau (Gao et al., 2017b).

4.2 Food consumption from other regions may also lead to development issues

Although the typical steppe area (i.e., West Ujimqin Banner) has meat supplies that are very substantial, the food supply in these areas not only fulfills the local food consumption demand, but it must also meet other regions’ needs (Cao et al., 2010). Therefore, the food consumption demands from other regions could increase the land resource carrying capacity pressure in the study areas. The output for food consumption puts pressure on the local ecology, which has already led to problems such as over-grazing and over- exploitation, and these improper activities have caused the deterioration of the local environment in the Xilin Gol Grassland (Barthold et al., 2013). However, these issues are also relevant to additional factors related to regional food trading, marketing, economic development, and others (Bolortsetseg and Tuvaansuren, 1996; Halldorsdottir and Nicholas, 2016), which are worthy of greater scientific research focus in the future.

4.3 Limitations

In this study, we used the first-hand data obtained from a questionnaire survey of farmers and herdsmen households as the basic data of residents' food consumption demands and analyzed the nutritional needs and characteristics of food consumption patterns. The acquisition of this first-hand data makes up for many of the shortcomings of past consumption data analyses which mainly relied on statistical data (Wang et. al, 2019). This improvement in the consumption data source enriches the empirical research on this aspect to a certain extent; at the same time, food supply and food consumption information come from different data sources, and the accuracy is very high. Unfortunately, due to inconsistent statistical robustness, errors may result. If the investigation of the supply part can be further developed and first-hand supply data can be obtained, this part of the problem would be solved. To achieve such an ideal goal, a lot of work will need to be invested, and this part of the research can be further refined in future work.

5 Conclusions

Based on the dietary demand perspective, this paper combined the first-hand data obtained from a questionnaire survey of farmers and herdsmen, with second-hand data such as statistical data and land use data, and it then used the land resource carrying capacity assessment framework to view the Xilin Gol Grassland transects based on the characteristics of food supply and consumption and nutrient intake. This study on the land use carrying capacity of the three study areas on the grassland transects revealed that:
(1) From the perspective of food consumption supply, the food supply in the study areas showed a shift from meat and milk to grains, vegetables and fruits from north to south along the grassland transects, while food nutrition increased in calories and fat supply along the grassland transects from north to south.
(2) From the perspective of dietary nutrition demands, the calorie intake of food along the grassland transects increased from north to south, while protein and fat intake showed obvious differences between agricultural and pastoral areas. Residents in agricultural areas showed high- calorie, low-protein and low-fat nutrition characteristics, while pastoral residents exhibited high-calorie, high-protein and high-fat nutritional demands.
(3) The evaluation of land use carrying capacity from the perspective of dietary nutrition showed that the land resource carrying capacity of the typical areas on the Xilin Gol Grassland is still in a surplus state. However, the land use carrying pressure of the typical grassland pastoral area is higher than those of the sandy pastoral area and the agro-pastoral transition zone. This capacity may be affected by additional factors, such as productivity and industrial structure.
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