To mitigate the impacts of grassland degradation on the Qinghai–Tibetan Plateau (QTP), in recent decades China has been implementing large-scale conservation programs and has invested about 42 billion CNY (7 billion USD). However, these programs are faced with major challenges involving trade-offs between ecological function, livestock production and income of pastoralists. Scientific assessments, as well as technical and policy issues, have not fully captured the complex ecological, social and economic dynamics of the challenges facing grassland management on the QTP. Pastoral livestock production on the QTP is characterized by imbalance in both quality and quantity between livestock seasonal nutrient requirements and herbage production, which forces pastoralists to keep larger numbers of livestock for longer periods, leading to overgrazing. To solve these problems, an integrated crop-livestock system is promoted to improve the efficiency of livestock production and conserve natural grassland as well for a sustainable system for the QTP.