Doubts remain as reforestation plan takes root

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 August, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 August, 2002, 12:00am

Money always serves as the strongest incentive for any kind of campaign in China - just as it has played an important role in promoting reforestation.

In Gansu, the reforestation programme initiated by Premier Zhu Rongji three years ago has been welcomed by farmers. They have been happy to trade their arid land for 100kg of grain a year per mu (0.06 hectare), as well as a one-off payment of 50 yuan (HK$47) per mu to buy saplings and an annual subsidy of 20 yuan to maintain them, officials say.

Officials said some local governments had scrambled to be allocated a quota of farmland to be turned into forest.

'Some local cadres came to our office to fight for an increased quota for their localities. Sometimes conflicts erupted among farmers as they want to turn their farmland into forest,' a Gansu Forestry Department official said.

Under the reforestation campaign, each province is allocated a quota of farmland that should be converted into forest each year in exchange for the subsidies provided by the central government.

Sometimes the amount of land being reforested exceeded the quota and had to be counted in the following year's figure, with farmers compensated later.

However, there was still resistance from some farmers.

'Particularly among those who have not yet participated in the programme, many do not like the idea of handing over their land,' the official said.

Interestingly, local governments in Gansu are more enthusiastic about converting farmland into forests than growing trees on barren hills.

Officials said this was because more subsidies were provided for the reforestation of farmland. Local governments receive only a 50-yuan subsidy for planting trees on each mu of barren hill.

Gansu was originally given a quota of 300 mu of farmland and 300 mu of barren hills to be turned back into forests next year. After lobbying the central government, its quota was changed to 400 mu of farmland and 200 mu of barren hills.

'We can have more subsidies that way,' said the deputy director of the Gansu Forestry Department, Zhang Shengxian.

Analysts and officials recognise the programme's ecological significance, but many doubt its sustainability due to the heavy investment from central government. Even officials concede it will not be easy for the farmers to generate income from their reforested farms as the central government hopes. The state has encouraged farmers to plant trees with economic value such as fruit trees.