Journal of Geographical Sciences ›› 2022, Vol. 32 ›› Issue (7): 1357-1382.doi: 10.1007/s11442-022-2001-x

• Special Issue: Urban and Rural Governance Toward Sustainable Development Goals • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Rocky desertification poverty in Southwest China: Progress, challenges and enlightenment to rural revitalization

ZUO Taian1(), ZHANG Fengtai2,*(), ZHANG Junyi3, GAO Lei4, YU Shijie1   

  1. 1. School of Tourism Management and Services, Chongqing University of Education, Chongqing 400067, China
    2. School of Management, Chongqing University of Technology, Chongqing 400054, China
    3. School of Geography and Tourism, Chongqing Normal University, Chongqing 401331, China
    4. CSIRO, Waite Campus, Urrbrae, SA 5064, Australia
  • Received:2021-11-15 Accepted:2022-04-02 Online:2022-07-25 Published:2022-09-25
  • Contact: ZHANG Fengtai;
  • About author:Zuo Taian (1984-), PhD and Associate Professor, specialized in soil and water conservation and desertification combating. E-mail:
  • Supported by:
    National Social Science Foundation of China(20AJY005);National Natural Science Foundation of China(41901214);Natural Science Foundation of Chongqing(cstc2021jcyj-msxmX0963);Social Science Planning Program of Chongqing(2019YBGL075);Social Science Planning Program of Chongqing(2021SZ27);Humanities and Social Science Program of Chongqing(19SKGH132);Scientific Research Project of Chongqing University of Education(KY202125C);Regional Tourism Research Centre of Chongqing University of Education(2021XJPT07)


Rocky desertification poverty (RDP) refers to rural poverty triggered or exacerbated by rocky desertification, which deprives farmers of opportunities for improving their financial conditions through agricultural production. As China implements strategies including building a moderately prosperous society, targeted poverty alleviation, and rural revitalization, issues concerning RDP have become the work foci for the Chinese government and research hotspots for Chinese academic circles. This paper provides a thorough review of the history, progress, challenges and prospects based on decades of RDP studies in Southwest China. First, we review the origin, definitions and historical development trends of RDP. Over nearly four decades, research on RDP can be framed as four stages: start-up, poverty alleviation and ecological reconstruction, rocky desertification comprehensive control and green development. We find that RDP research progress appears to be directly related to the Chinese government’s policy support and decision-making in mitigating RDP. Second, previous findings are reviewed and summarised regarding four research aspects: relationship exploration between rocky desertification and rural poverty, mechanisms of rocky desertification for exacerbating poverty, strategies for eliminating RDP and anti-poverty benefit evaluations of rocky desertification control efforts. Third, the remaining challenges are identified and summarised, including the challenges of conducting theoretical research on RDP and consolidating achievements in eliminating RDP. We find that while many achievements have been made in the study of RDP in recent decades, the completeness and systematism of the theoretical system remain weak, and the guidance for empirical research is still insufficient. Finally, this research is fundamental in achieving rural revitalization in rocky desertification areas. The key to eliminating RDP lies in scientific rural transformation development. Given that the karst ecological environment in the subtropical zone is fragile, these regions should build a new rural regional economic system, abandon extensive and predatory development that sacrifices the environment and resources, and promote the transition from backwards development modes to high-quality and sustainable development. This paper will contribute to the current understanding of the issues of RDP, provide theoretical support for the realization of rural revitalization in rocky desertification areas and provide other countries with China’s experience in poverty alleviation.

Key words: rocky desertification, rural revitalization, poverty alleviation, green development, research progress, Southwest China