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Xie SHOUXIN, Deputy Division Director, Department of Forest Resources
State Forestry Administration, Beijing, P.R. CHINA


Because of the deficiency in forest resources, the Chinese Government has always tried to prevent them from being overcut, encouraged tree planting and afforestation, protection and development of forest resources, and the improvement of the ecological environment as the main aims of forestry practice in China. But, along with the development of the national economy and public society, as well as the increase in population and the people's living standards, timber demand has been increasing. The forest resource in China was still overcut during the past few decades. As a result, the sharp decline in natural forest resources and seriously devastated forest vegetation brought about a fragile ecosystem, an expanding desertified area, serious soil and water erosion and frequent droughts and floods.

In order to control and reverse the trend of increasing deterioration of the ecosystem, give full play to the dominant role of forests in protection and improvement of the ecosystem, and secure sustainable development of the national economy and society, in 1998 the Chinese Government established a nationwide classified management method for forests, so as to establish a sound forest ecosystem and a relatively developed forestry industry system, and started implementing the natural forest protection project in key natural forest regions. This was before the devastating floods of the Yangtze, Nenjiang and Songhua Jiang rivers in the summer of 1998. At present, the protection of natural forests has become an important component for sustainable forestry development.

Existing forest resources

Inadequate forest resources

The fifth national forest resource inventory (1994–1998) shows that the forest area in China is 158 941 million ha and the standing stock volume is 12 488 billion m3, among which the forest stock volume is 11 267 billion m3. The national forest cover is 16.55 percent of the land area. The area and stock volume of China's natural forest take up 69.6 and 90.0 percent of the total, respectively. The stock volume of natural forests per hectare averages 90.7 m3 per hectare. This indicates that natural forests are still the main body of China's forest, and they are playing a significant role in maintaining and improving the environment.

The quantity of the forest resource is increasing gradually

Table 1 shows the result of the successive forest resource inventory. It shows that the forest area and stock in China continue to increase. According to the fifth national forest resource inventory, the yearly mean net growth (excluding dead trees from natural ageing) of the national standing stock volume over 5 years is 457.52 billion m3 and the net consumption is 370.75 billion m3, which indicates that growth is larger than consumption. But compared with the last 5-year period, the yearly mean net consumption has increased by 50.83 billion m3.

Table 1. Changes in forest area, stock volume and forest cover in China

Inventory period
Forest area
(million ha)
Standing stock
(billion m3)
Forest stock
(billion m3)
Forest coverage
1973–1976121 8609 5328 65612.69
1977–1981115 27710 2619 02812.00
1984–1988124 65310 5729 14112.98
1989–1993133 70411 78510 13713.92
1994–1998158 94112 48811 26716.55

Rapid increase in plantation resources and economic forest

Please refer to Table 2 for details. From it, we can see that at present the existing plantation area in China is more than 46.7 million ha. China is a country with the largest plantation area in the world. But the stock volume of plantation forest stands averages only 34.8 m3 per hectare, and the average annual growth is less than 3 m3 per hectare, compared with the developed countries; this is far from satisfying the demand of national economic development for timber and forest products.

Table 2. Changes in plantation and economic forest area in million ha (percentage of total forest area)

Inventory periodPlantations areaEconomic forest area
1973–197623 690 (19.4%)8 520 (7.0%)    
1977–198122 192 (19.3%)11 280 (9.8%)  
1984–198831 011 (24.9%)13 744 (11.0%)
1989–199334 252 (25.6%)16 099 (12.0%)
1994–199846 667 (29.4%)20 222 (12.7%)

A relatively large proportion of young forests in forest stands

In Table 3 we can see that the stock volume of forest stands averages only 78.1 m3 per hectare. Since the forest stands in China have a low stock volume per unit area, its quality is poor.

Table 3. Area and volume of forest stands by age group (unit: million ha/million m3)

Inventory periodForest standsYoung & middle-aged forestsOther forests
1973–1976105 010/7 647.170 680/2 490.634 330/5 156.5
1977–1981  95 622/9 784.068 185/3 386.227 437/4 592.2
1984–1988102 187/18 091.572 166/3 364.930 021/4 726.6
1989–1993108 638/9 087.277 464/3 683.531 174/5 403.7
1994–1998129 199/10 085.691 887/4 151.137 312/5 934.5

Lack of harvesting resources

The age group structure of timber forest is listed in Table 4, which follows the forest resource inventory. From it we can see that at present the area of the mature and over-mature timber forest in China is 14.7 million ha, and the standing stock volume is 2.74 billion m3, which accounts for 38.0 percent of the timber forest stock volume. Among it, the area and volume that can be cut or harvested is respectively 12.7 million ha and 2.3 billion m3, which accounts for 22.7 percent of the forest stand volume.

Table 4. Area and volume of timber forest by age group (unit: million ha/million m3)

Inventory periodTimber forestYoung & middle-agedUndermatureMature & over
1973–197692 820/6 726.864 700/2 318.528 120/4 408.3-/-
1977–198180 629/6 881.958 577/2 954.122 052/3 927.8-/-
1984–198880 070/6 173.258 660/2 782.57 212/768.114 198/2 622.6
1989–199384 929/6 743.463 097/3 043.38 345/907.613 487/2 792.5
1994–199899 395/7 206.273 953/3 368.610 757/1 097.614 685/2 740.0

Description of the Natural Forest Protection Programme (NFPP)

The NFPP is a great and transcentury environmental protection programme. It is also a complicated social programme. It aims at protecting the natural forest resources at the source, middle and upper reaches of large rivers and regions with vulnerable ecosystems.

Scope and goals of the NFPP

According to the implemental scheme warranted by the State Council, the NFPP of the key regions (divided into two types) covers 17 provinces (autonomous regions or municipalities). Therein, the NFPP of the key State forest in the northeastern area, Inner Mongolia, and so on, covers Inner Mongolia, Jilin, Heilongjiang, Hainan, Xinjiang; the NFPP of upper reaches of the Yangtze River - as well as the upper and middle reaches of the Yellow River - covers Yunnan, Sichuan, Guizhou, Chongqing, Hubei, Tibet, Shaanxi, Gansu, Qinghai, Ningxia, Inner Mongolia, Shanxi and Henan.

The construction period of the programme is from 2000 to 2010. It will be implemented in two phases. During the first phase (2000–2003) of the NFPP of the key State forest in the northeastern area, Inner Mongolia, and so on, the main task is to classify 34.18 million ha of State-owned forest land in the programme area, among which 14.09 million ha are logging ban areas, 12.06 million ha are logging control areas, and 8.03 million ha are commercial forest areas. By 2003, the harvesting quota of timber from natural forest will be reduced by 7.52 million m3 compared with the 1997 level. The existing 33 million ha of forest will be effectively managed and conserved, and the deteriorating trend of the environment will be alleviated to a certain extent. At the same time, 484 000 surplus labourers in forest regions will be absorbed by afforestation activities and other alternative projects.

During the second phase (2004–2010), the programme will mainly focus on the establishment and protection of ecological forests, the development of transitional projects, the cultivation of forest resources, the increase of wood supply capacity and the development of the economy in forest regions. By 2010, natural forest resources will be basically restored. Timber production will be shifted from logging in natural forests to the management and use of plantations. The conflicts between population, economy, resources and environment will be alleviated primarily. All these efforts will lead to the formation of a relatively sound forest ecosystem and a rational forestry industry system so that forestry can play an important role in the economically and socially sustainable development of the country.

The first phase of the NFPP of the upper reaches of the Yangtze River, as well as the upper and middle reaches of the Yellow River, is from 2000–2005; the second phase is from 2006–2010. The main tasks are two: The first one is to entirely stop logging from natural forests; 30.4 million ha of natural forests in this programme area will be strictly managed and protected, logging from which will not be permitted. At the same time, various measures and methods will be adopted so as to effectively manage and protect the existing 30.8 million ha of other forests and forest lands. The second task is to accelerate afforestation and grass planting in the programme area. By 2010, the area of afforestation will be 12.7 million ha, among which 3.7 million ha of mountain closure for afforestation, 7.1 million ha of aerial planting, and 1.9 million ha of artificial plantations.

Main contents

First, the areas of improvement of ecosystems in the upper reaches of the Yangtze River and the Yellow River will be classified as ecosystem conservation regions consisting of logging ban areas, and any logging activity will be firmly banned.

Second, a harvesting quota from natural forests in ecosystem rehabilitation areas will be reduced by a large margin, and the harvesting method will be improved. Management and restoration of natural forest resources will be further strengthened through the application of new technologies and approaches.

Third, various measures will be adopted in productive forest regions to cultivate large diameter timber of high quality, and actively develop fast-growing and high-yielding commercial forests.

Fourth, the integrated development of different resources in forest areas will be strengthened to adjust and optimize the structure of the economy in forest regions. Guided by the market economy, some new policy measures will be adopted to create employment opportunities for laid-off employees and surplus labourers, so as to solve the living difficulties of forestry workers.

Finally, scientific forest management will be strengthened and the capacity of sustainable development will be improved through the training of workers and managers. A scientific monitoring and evaluation system will be established for the management and supervision of the natural forest protection programme.

Timber supply and demand balance

Supply capacity of forest resources

Because most of these forest resources are growing along the upper reaches of main rivers and lakes and have an important shelter function, they are actually not suitable for cutting. At present, the usable forest resources in China are mainly the mature and overmature timber forests, and a part of them are located in remote mountainous areas and areas with difficult access to transportation. Thus, harvesting conditions are very difficult.

It is estimated that the area and volume of the usable mature and overmature timber forest is just 12.7 million ha and 2.3 billion m3, respectively. With the addition of the stock volumes of regeneration cutting in shelterbelt forests and tending cutting in young and middle-aged forest stands, the total quantity available for cutting is less than 270 million m3, which may produce timber of about 160 million m3. However, only less than 70 million m3 timbers will be allowed as commercial timber, which is the domestic timber production (planned production). The rest will be used for fuelwood and own-use-timber for inhabitants in the mountain areas.

Actual demand for timber

At present, the total demand for timber in China is more than 130 million m3.

Timber shortage between supply and demand

Because the actual possible supply capacity of forest resources in China is 70 million m3, while the total demand for timber is over 130 million m3, there is a shortfall of 60 million m3 between supply and demand. Solving this shortage mainly depends on imports. According to statistics on timber imports from the customs, the annual mean timber imports (log equivalent) from 1995 to 1998 exceeded 40 million m3.

NFPP's impact on timber supply and demand

China is a big country in the world of timber production, consumption and imports. As a product directly related to industrial and agricultural production and the lives of the people, timber plays an important role in the development of the national economy. Therefore, China's NFPP has a great impact not only on the domestic timber market but also on the international timber market. In China, the NFPP is increasing the total conflict between timber supply and demand while the structure conflict between them is becoming sharper.

The total deficit volume tends to increase

With regard to domestic timber production, the production volume has a tendency to decrease year after year (see Table 5). Along with the implementation of the national project, timber production will be reduced, especially rare and valuable species and large-diameter wood. The actual timber supply capacity of forest resources will continue to decrease.

Table 5. Timber production in China (planned production from 1995 to 2000) Unit: 1 000 m3

Stock volume88 00987 99194 18094 85586 99678 465
Commercial54 18154 14257 26656 80052 59946 726

At the same time, along with the development of the national economy and public society - as well as the increasing level of living standards - timber demand also tends to increase. Thus, the conflict between timber supply and demand will increase. The timber shortage will continue to expand. It is estimated that by the year 2003, the total timber shortage in China will increase up to 75 million m3.

The structural conflict is sharp

From the current structure of forest resources in China (see Table 4), among the timber forest the stock volume of near-mature and overmature forest will continue to decrease. It can be estimated that the stock volume of the usable mature and overmature timber forest will be certainly less than 2.3 billion m3 by 2005. The harvestable stock volume, with the exception of poplar, birch and Chinese fir, will be reduced year after year. In particular, the large-diameter wood resources have a tendency to reduce sharply.

Moreover, since the 1990s, timber and timber product imports (log equivalence) increase every year, among which 30 percent or 13.74 million m3 are log, sawn timber, veneer and plywood. This is the very reason for the shortage of domestic large-diameter logs in China.

Approaches and solutions to timber supply and demand deficit

It is not realistic for China to depend solely on imports to solve timber shortages since imports, on the one hand, are limited by international market supply and timber prices and, on the other hand, they are also limited by the balance of national foreign currency. Therefore, domestic strength should be depended on. The specific approaches include:

Accelerate the growth of forest resources is fundamental to satisfying domestic timber supply

First of all, the establishment of fast-growing and high-yielding timber plantations should be accelerated in a short time span so as to increase timber supply capacity, promote the shift of timber production from the north to the south, and from the use of natural forest to the use of plantations. To build up the gap between timber supply and demand, and ease the pressure on wood production from shelterbelt forest and natural forest, the Chinese Government made the decision early in 1988 to establish 20 million ha of fast-growing and high-yielding timber forest bases within a 30-year period. By 1999, 5 million ha had been established, among which 1.4 million ha funded by a World Bank loan. By 2005, the fast-growing and high-yielding timber forest bases will add 1.3 million ha, and the supply capacity of the bases every year will reach 40–60 million m3 by 2010.

Second, the tending of middle-aged and young-aged timber forest with an area of about 74 million ha (among which more than 20 million ha need urgent attention) will be accelerated.

Increase the use rate of forest resources and the integrated use rate of timber

Currently, the use rate of harvested forest and the integrated use rate of timber in China are 61 and 63 percent, respectively. Based on the current production scale and processing capacity, the increase of every one-percentage point in the use rate of harvested forest and the integrated use rate of timber means an equivalent increase of timber supply of 1 million and 400 000 m3, respectively. The application of new technologies and new techniques will increase the use rate of harvested forest and the integrated use rate of timber. This also means an additional increase in timber supply.

Accelerate forest industry where the source of raw materials is from residues of plantations and forest areas

The development of a forest industry that combines trading, industry and forestry will help to adjust the forest resource structure, increase the production and quality of forest products and may increase the constitutional capacity of wood.

Enhance international economic cooperation in forestry

The healthy development of China's forestry is of great importance in satisfying the supply of forest products for the world and balancing international market prices for forest products.

In order to enhance cooperation in international forestry economy, promote optimum positioning of global resources, encourage price competition, and strengthen the development of external structuring, China has extensively reduced her tariff three times in 1996, 1997 and 1998, respectively. The general tariff level has been reduced from 35.9 to 23 percent, and further lowered to 17 percent. Within the same period, the tariff for forest products has also been reduced extensively. For example, the tariff rate of logs and sawn timber has been reduced about 15 to 5 percent, and further to 0 percent, while the tariff rate of timber products has been reduced 40–50 percent down to about 15 percent. The reduction of tariffs every time results in a loss or bankruptcy of some industries in China. This indicates the hard effort and contribution made by a developing country in forestry.

Limited by international market supply and timber prices, as well as the balance of national foreign currency, China will make appropriate use of resources and markets - both international and domestic - so as to make up the domestic deficit in timber and forest products caused by structural problems.

It is expected that the implementation of the above-mentioned measures will increase the domestic timber supply by more than 40 million m3 by the year 2010, thereby meeting the needs of supply and demand when adding imported timber. By the year 2010, along with the establishment of domestic timber plantation bases, the timber supply capacity may be further improved and the conflict between timber supply and demand gradually lessened, so that the supply and demand of domestic timber and timber products will be basically balanced.

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