China’s forestry projects ‘should be more sustainable’

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[BEIJING] Two of China’s largest environmental programmes should plan more systemically and enhance collaboration to sustain their success, say scientists.

In a study published in this week’s (15 July) Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) researchers evaluate the ecological and economic impacts of China’s Natural Forest Conservation Program (NFCP) and Grain to Green Programme (GTGP).

Another eight years of funding for the GTGP have been recently approved, and NFCP is likely to receive the same.

The NFCP, launched in 1997 following serious droughts, aims to conserve natural forests through logging bans and afforestation with incentives to forest enterprises. Under the programme, the area of protected land has risen rapidly and carbon sequestration has increased.

The GTGP, initiated in 1998 after massive floods, converts cropland on steep slopes to forest and grassland by providing farmers with grain and cash subsidies. By the end of 2006, the programme had transformed almost nine million hectares of cropland and afforested 11.7 million hectares of barren land, write the authors.

With regards to socioeconomic effects, the GTGP has been particularly successful, benefiting 120 million farmers in over 30 million households nationwide, while the NFCP has only affected a few hundred state-owned forest enterprises.

But the authors point out some shortcomings, such as the programmes’ heavy reliance on government funding, which has placed budgetary burdens on local governments. They suggest that if the subsidies were to end, new forest could be converted back into cropland and natural forest logged again.

The authors appeal for reforms to make the programmes more sustainable, including more systematic planning at numerous government levels and diversified funding schemes such as pushing hydropower firms to compensate farmers.

Additionally, the authors point out that not much is known about the collaborative efforts of the two programmes, and suggest the creation of a national network of interdisciplinary research that focuses on both the NFCP and GTGP.

Wang Liqun, deputy dean at the School of Economic Management at Beijing Forestry University, says some of the recommended measures are already on the policy agenda. For example, the continued government funding of the GTGP will be used not only to compensate farmers, but also to support alternative businesses.

"The two programmes, launched when China was still at a lower economic development stage, imply that developing countries can achieve environmental recovery amidst development as long as they have strong determination and organisation," Wang told SciDev.Net.

Link to full paper in PNAS


PNAS 105, 9477 (2008)