Hundreds of ethnic Mongolian herders protested on the streets of Durbed town over Chinese government-backed plans to build several large pig farms in the region.
More than 300 herders marched in Thursday's protest, holding a banner that read: "No to pig farming on grasslands, no to destruction of the natural environment," and chanting "We don't want pig farms! We want our grasslands protected!"
Ethnic Mongolian Khubis, who lives in Japan, said a second protest had taken place in the afternoon, involving more than 100 Durbed herders.
"Ethnic Mongolian herders are prohibited from grazing, but the local government is attracting companies from the mainland to build pig farms in the name of attracting inward investment from the rest of China," Khubis said.
One herder told RFA that officials had promised the issue would be resolved in five days' time.
The herder, Qi Qige, said pig farms put huge pressure on water sources and discharge wasted untreated into the environment.
"I have been to the government several times about this ... because there is no water," Qi said. "I have had to go to transport water from places five, six, or 10 miles from here."
"The pollution [from pig farms] is also too severe."
No water left at all
Qi said the pig farms solve the water shortage by drilling artesian wells 450 meters down, further depleting the water table, while the herders can only drill up to 200 meters.
"One day there won't be any water at all," Qi said.
Video clips sent to the New York-based Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC) showed police preventing the marching herders from entering the government compound in Durbed and wresting their banners from them.
"Police twisted our hands and confiscated our banners," one protester says in a video clip sent to SMRHIC. "Two elderly ladies’ hands were badly injured, and I am in severe pain."
The plans for the seven new pig farms were drawn up between the government of Durbed banner, a county-like administrative division, and a Chinese investor, but without consulting local people.
Earlier protests had resulted in the suspension of the plans, according to protester Hasbaatar.
"But three days ago, the largest of the seven resumed operation again," Hasbaatar said in an audio statement. "This is why we are here today to protest."
No approval needed
The plans for the pig farms came after the ministry of land and resources announced it would allow animal farming companies to appropriate land without official approval.
A post titled "Central Government’s Special Approval: Starting September, Agricultural and Pig Farming Land Appropriation Needs No Approval!" was published on the ministry's Chinese Agricultural Net on Aug. 29, 2019.
The directive decrees that "no local government shall restrict or ban any large-scale animal farming in the name of expanding rural villages or recovering ecosystems."
Ethnic Mongolian activist and writer Sechenbaatar told SMHRIC: "The Chinese are free to do whatever they want on [ethnic] Mongolian land. They are free to raise pigs. They are free to cultivate grassland. They are free to plunder our natural resources and free to destroy our land."
He said the ruling Chinese Communist Party would allow anything to take place in Inner Mongolia except for the traditional Mongolian way of life.
Clashes between Chinese companies and ethnic Mongolian herders protesting the exploitation of their grasslands are increasingly common in the region, which borders the independent country of Mongolia.
Rights activists say grasslands on which the herding communities depend for a living are constantly being taken over, forcing them to take action to stand up for their rights.
Ethnic Mongolians, who make up almost 20 percent of Inner Mongolia's population of 23 million, complain of widespread environmental destruction and unfair development policies in the region.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.