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7. China People’s Republic

Country data

Total land area (thousand ha)

932, 740

Total forest 1995 (thousand ha)/percentage of total land area (%)


Natural forest 1995 (thousand ha)


Total change in forest cover 1990-95 (thousand ha)/annual change %)


Population total 1997 (millions)/annual rate of change 1995-2000(%)


Rural population 1997 (%)


GNP per person 1995 in US$


Source of data: The FAO State of the World’s Forest 1999

General information

In the winter of 1978, the Chinese Government adopted a new policy for reform and opening up to the outside world to promote social and economic development. Some of the systems developed prior to reform were, in fact, useful. Under the Soviet economic model, China established a good agricultural base, formed a commune system that provided a good social infrastructure, and successfully developed certain heavy industries. However, the Soviet model also generated serious economic distortions, such as low incomes within the agricultural sector and the decline of the private sector.

In consideration of China’s uniquely large population and landmass, the underlying approach to reform employed in China was a gradualist one. The reform process in China began in the agricultural sector, where three quarters of the population earn their living. As the first step in the reform process, the country liberalised the price of agricultural products. By 1989, 60% of the prices were liberalised, allowing a more efficient allocation of resources, At present, 97 % of the prices have been liberalised. In 1984, a policy of “invigorating enterprises” was adopted and the focus of reform shifted from rural to urban areas. In 1992, a socialist market economy was developed that requires greater decentralisation and the consolidation of the contract system.

However, despite the success of the reform process, the country faced some failures and constraints, including: a) the disparity between the rich and the poor and among the regions has been widening over the past 20 years, which recently prompted the government to launch the western development programme; b) the reforms have not responded to social concerns in a timely manner; c) the country export-based growth and high domestic savings rate has led to idle money in the economy; d) there is a lack of institutions that support entrepreneurs; e) the country is facing an uncertain and changing value system; f) there is a gap between economic reform and political reform; g) natural resources management and environmental/industrial pollution are emerging as big challenges in the country.

Progress has been made in the implementation of the reform policy with the total value of imports and exports exceeding US$ 200 billion and China’s foreign exchange reserves was totalling over US$ 100 billion in 1996.

China is a major agricultural country. The development of agriculture, the rural areas and the wellbeing of the rural population are of crucial importance to the country’s socialist modernisation drive, the success of China’s reform, development, and stability. Rural prosperity is essential to making the whole country prosperous.

The country has been highly committed to sustainable development. Therefore, the Government attaches great importance to the protection and development of the ecological environment. Environmental protection is now designated as one of the fundamental policies of the State, which is closely associated with the survival and development of the nation.

The Chinese Government attaches great importance to forestry development. Afforestation and territory greening have been defined as the common duty of the society as a whole. Key ecological programmes such as the Three-North Shelterbelt Development Programme, the Programme for Shelterbelt Development along the Middle and Upper Reaches of the Yangtze river, the Coastal Shelterbelt Development Programme, and the Taihang Mountain Afforestation Programme have been carried out with remarkable achievements in the ecological and social benefits.

Soon after UNCED, the Chinese Government put forward ten policy measures to promote environmental protection and development. With support and assistance from UNDP, China’s Agenda 21 and its Priority programmes were formulated. In addition, the forest-related aspects have been formulated by the Ministry of Forestry, including: the Forestry Action Plan for China’s Agenda 21 (FAPCA), China Biodiversity Conservation Action Plan, China Wetland Conservation Action Plan, and China National Action Plan to Implement the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.

China Agenda 21 will be one of the key documents guiding the formulation of China’s mid-term and long-term forestry development plans. The implementation of the FAPCA will enable forestry development to proceed along the lines of global environmental conservation and promote the shift from conventional to modern forestry. The goals of the FAPCA are the following:

1. By 2010: lay the foundation for the establishment of a relatively complete forestry ecological system and a fully developed forestry industrial system;

2. By the mid-21st century: establish a relatively complete forestry ecological system and a fully developed forestry industrial system; establish a modern administrative system and social service system for forestry.

To achieve the above goals, enhancing the awareness of and capabilities for sustainable forest development has been given high priority. The means to accomplish this are as follows:

· Educate the decision-makers and advisors of the forestry sector at all levels to enhance their awareness of sustainable forestry development;

· Raise public awareness about the paramount significance of sustainable forestry development through extensive publicity to facilitate social involvement and public participation;

· Work out the assessment criteria and indicators for sustainable forestry development;

· Set up a forest resource management system that combines market mechanisms and macro-government control;

· Develop and improve the policy and legal framework for sustainable forestry development;

· Set up a forest disaster pre-warning system to enhance disaster prevention and emergency handling capabilities;

· Rationalise and improve the plan for an educational and scientific research system in the forestry sector; and

· Establish a multi-source investment framework in the forestry sector.

In March 1998, it was announced that the Ministry of Forestry had been renamed as the State Forestry Administration. The change will reorient the task of the institution. It was also announced that the State Forestry Administration would tighten control over logging quotas. This will be in line with the forest policy on preservation of forest resources and protecting the environment. The policy was announced at the beginning of 1998 entitled: “Protecting Natural Forest Programme”. The Administration will put forward a scheme to tighten annual checks over the implementation of logging quotas.

Being a large developing country, with a population of 1.2 billion, China is still confronted with serious problems in its ecological environment, including water pollution/soil erosion, desertification, water resource shortages, frequent natural disasters like floods, droughts and winds. The most serious challenge for China’s forest is the pressure from its enormous population and the state of its increasing trend.

Due to the heterogeneity and the size of China, the Government decided that the National Forestry Programmes (NFP) should be implemented in stages at the district level. The first strategic planning process was therefore initiated in Simao District, Province of Yunnan (Simao Forestry Action Programme/SFAP). The SFAP planning exercise was completed in 1995.

The SFAP exercise has been extended to Qinzhou and Fancheng Districts of Guangxi Autonomous Region (Qinfang Forestry Action Programme/QFAP). The QFAP planning exercise began in the second half of 1996. The Issues Paper was produced in the middle of 1997. The in-depth study of the forestry sector was carried out in the third quarter of 1997. The QFAP strategic plan document was finalised in early 1999.

In addition, the Development Strategy of Western China was crafted in June 2000, in which the forestry sector development strategy is one of the sub-systems of the Strat-egy.

Forest resources

In 1981, the late Mr. Deng Xiaoping launched a grand campaign for compulsory tree planting that has had a positive response from the whole population of the country. As a result, afforestation has become a common practice for the improvement of the ecological environment. Over the past 18 years, 30 billion trees had been planted.

The total forest area was approximately 133.3 million ha, or less than 14.3% forest cover in 1995. The available forest area was 0.11 ha/head or 11.7% of the world average making it a “low forest cover country” according to these criteria. However, the country has for a long time had a high rate of reforestation of about 4-5 million ha annually. Tree planting by the rural population accounts for 90% of the reforestation.

With regard to resources development, putting water and soil erosion under control and improving the ecological environment, the ten key ecological programmes have been approved and implemented. By the end of 1998, an accumulated 37.71 million ha of forests had been established.

In addition, several small-scale ecological programmes, such as the Nature Reserves or Forest Parks Programme will be implemented at local levels to supplement the ten key programmes. These will be the foundation for conserving biodiversity and improving the living condition of the people.

In regard to afforestation, the Government has launched several programmes, including the following:

· National compulsory tree planting programme. The programme has helped strengthen the people’s awareness of the importance of afforestation and environmental protection. In 1994 alone, 2.52 billion trees were planted.

· Development of a fast growing and high yielding timber base. At present 3.4 million ha of plantations have been established. It is planned that 20 million ha of fast growing timber plantations will be established over the next 30 years. It is expected that 43.8 million m3 of timber will be produced by 2010.

· The three-north shelterbelt development programme, known as “China’s Green Great Wall”. A total of 35.08 million ha of plantations are expected to be established by the year 2050. By 1994, 13 million ha of plantations had been established, 11 million ha of farmlands had been protected by shelterbelts, and 8.93 million ha of pasturelands had been conserved and reclaimed.

· Programme on soil and water conservation forest along the upper and middle reaches of Yangtze river. The first master plan was approved in 1989. About 5.46 million ha of plantations had been established by 1994.

· The coastal shelterbelt development programme. The programme commence in 1991. About 324,000 ha were afforested by 1994. About 6.17 million ha of farmlands are under effective protection.

· Plain farmland shelterbelt development pro-gramme. The farmland areas under shelter-belt protection reached 33.33 million ha by 1994.

· The national programme to combat deser-tification. A total of 3,670 million ha of sandy land, sand fixation plantations, and aerial seeded forests were reclaimed and developed by 1994.

· The Taihang mountain afforestation pro-gramme. By 1994, about 1.28 million ha of forests had been established and 245,000 ha of barren lands were afforested.

· The state-owned state farm. About 8.0 million ha of plantations were established by 1994.

· The collectively owned forest farms at township and village levels. By 1994, 16.66 million ha of forest farms were established. The trees planted included fruit trees. Due to its high value, the forest farms have become “green banks” in rural areas.

· Establishment of plantations in state forest area. By 1994, 9.6 million ha of regeneration areas had been completed, while 4.4 million ha of new plantations had also been established. In addition, 40 high quality seed orchards and 50 standardised nurseries were established.

The country has a great deal of experience in combating desertification through sand dune fixation, shelterbelts and wind-breaks and has developed a number of techniques. In addition, biomass (including wood and charcoal) represents almost 30% of the country’s total energy consumption. Annual fuel wood consumption is valued at more than US$ 9 billion. The main users are households, commerce and traditional industries. Local shortages still exist.

Forest policy and planning

The State Forest Administration is responsible for matters concerning the forestry sector. The recent main issues include restructuring (downsizing) of the forestry institutions with about 50% reduction in staff size, and a logging ban on commercial logging in some areas. The logging ban has had a tremendous impact on the revenue collected; in some areas the revenues dropped up to 70%.

The key part of the forest development in the 21st Century will be the proper balance between the ecological function and economic function of forest. From the point of view of the ecological environment as the fundamental basis for economic development, the country will readjust its approaches for economic development to the implementation of sustainable development. In regard to the guidelines in forestry, the country will continue to highlight the improvement of the ecological environment as its top goal and primary task. For the implementation of diversified forest management, the country will adopt both the forest ecological system and the forest industrial system.

Development strategy for Western China

It was noted that the economic development achievement in the west region, which covers 56% of China’s territory and account for 50% of the verified mineral resource deposits, has not enjoyed the same degree of success as the eastern region. It was estimated that an average of 2,460 km2 of land is subject to desertification annually in China. Disastrous sandstorms hit several major cities in 2000. It was decided that more investment should go to the west region to undertake a number of water conservation, transportation, and environmental protection projects. The priority has been given to improving food security, increasing the rural population’s income, and strengthening the agricultural sustainable development.

Taking into consideration the rich resources, sparse population, and fragile ecological condition, and bearing in mind the experiences gained during the socio-economic development in the last two decade, the Government has formulated an economic development strategy for the western China that focuses on the following: a) infrastructure development; b) ecosystem protection; c) economic localisation and agricultural restructure; and d) introduction of new technology and education development.

In the process of implementing the development strategy, special efforts would be devoted to several aspects, including agriculture, forestry, water conservation, and environment a protection.

In regard to agriculture, special efforts would be focussed on the following: a) developing regional characterised agriculture, such as high quality cotton production base, sugar production base, fruit production base, vegetable production base, flower production base, medicinal herb production base, and tobacco production base; b) increasing grain and cotton production; c) reinforcing construction of grassland and eco-agriculture, in which there will be a programme to “barter grain for trees and grass” for the reversion of farmlands to forestry and grassland, in which 5.15 million ha of farmland that have suffered from erosion will be revert back into forests and grasslands.

In regard to forestry, emphasis would be given to ecological improvement. The Government has adopted the following policies and programmes:

· prohibiting logging in and building shelter belts along the upper and middle reaches of the Yangtse and Yellow Rivers, the closure of hills and forests, and individual contracts for reforestation and development of private forest ownership;

· establishing 6.48 million ha of forests and grasslands in the barren hills and on the wastelands, in addition to 5.15 million ha to revert back to forestry under the agricultural programme;

· establishing a forest ecology construction and control mode; 100 forest ecology constructions to guide afforestation have been established;

· creating conservation parks of 65.8 million ha in the middle and upper stream of the Yangtze and Pearl rivers; US$ 14.2 billion will be invested in 10 years;

· introducing alternative energy sources in the degraded areas to replace the traditional fuel wood.

In compliance with the actual situation and the state of its forest development, and in order to meet the State Strategy for Sustainable Development and Grand Development of the Western Part of the country, the future forest development will be focused on the following 4 strategies:

1) The Middle and Upper Reaches of the Yellow River and the Upper Reaches of the Yangtze River

In line with the principle of “returning barren farmlands to forest (pasture)” the overall guideline is to enclosure some mountains for afforestation, and ban natural forest harvesting, which will be accompanied by returning barren farmland to forest and the afforestation of barren hills. The focus of the programme is as follows: a ban on forest harvesting of the existing natural forests, followed by intensive conservation; regaining the vegetation coverage for all the barren hills and lands that are suitable for afforestation; well scheduled steps in returning the hilly farmlands to forest.

2) The sand threatened arid lands in North-western China, the Northern part of North China and the Western part of North-eastern China

These areas will be used for the public welfare-oriented ecological forests. The tar-get is to stop the expansion of deserts. The approaches are: tree planting and pasture development and shelter belts; launching large scale projects in desertified areas; and the oases with human communities in the deserts will be expanded.

3) The key State-owned forest district in North-eastern China and the Inner Mongolia

At present, these areas are the largest bases for timber production in China. Forest development in these areas is closely associated with the sustainable development of the entire region in North eastern China and North China. However, over-harvesting in the past has seriously affected the quality of forests with the supplies of large diameter trees almost exhausted. The major problems faced are to reduce the volume of forest harvesting, to re-allocate the people laid-off from forest industries, and to regenerate the resources.

Forests will be under intensive management, and a harvesting ban will be applied. For some areas with more favourable situations and less liable the water/soil erosion, a commercial forest approach will be adopted.

4) The provinces or regions other than the provinces or regions mentioned in the first three

Most parts of these regions, in terms of the general economy, have relatively developed and better situations for forest development. The focus of development and reformation in these regions is to carry out feasibility studies for diversified forest management, and site designations for ecological forests and for commercial timber forests.

Simao Forestry Action Programme (SFAP), Yunnan Province

Simao District is located in the southwest of Yunnan Province. Most of the land is mountainous with steep slopes. The climate is a south sub-tropical to warm-temperate, de-pending on the altitude which ranges from 500 to over 2000 meters. The forests cover an area of 2,628.7 million ha, or 59.2% of the total land area. In 1995, the total population of Simao District was 2.264 million, 60.4% of which represents minority nationalities.

The main economic activity is agriculture, mostly subsistence, with a range of products including: rice, maize, wheat, buckwheat, and sweet potato. Tree crops play a very im-portant role for cash income. Tea is the most important plantation, followed by fruit crops such as quince, pear, peach, mango, and pa-paya.

Various sources of energy are utilised, such as hydropower, petrol, coal, solar, and fuel wood. Fuel wood represents 86% of the total energy consumption. Forests and wastelands provide fuel wood, poles for housing and agriculture, grazing places, and various non-wood forest products (e.g. mushrooms, shellac, and bamboo shoots).

All arable land, including land for tree crops such as bamboo and fruit trees, is allocated to households for a period of fifty years under the Rural Households Responsibility System. The first allocation was made in 1980 on the basis of equal area per capita within natural villages.

Forests, ponds, canals, and wastelands belong to the collective under the village committees, which have authority over allocation and management. However, in most villages of Simao, the entire forest area is contracted to individual households on a per capita basis for management. In exchange for taking care of the trees, the households are allowed to collect branches for fuel wood as well as non- wood forest products. Timber cannot be cut without permission from the Township. If a family needs timber to build a new house, it may ask the village committee for permission to cut the necessary trees. Timber from the collective forest is seldom used to generate revenue and accumulate funds for the community.

Forest resources are deteriorating and decreasing. Forest resource depletion at present is about 4 million m3 per year, more than one-third of the annual increament. The growing stock is decreasing at about 0.5% annually. About 63.2% of the timber produced is used for fuel wood.

The SFAP exercise began in December 1992, technically supervised by the Chinese Academy of Forestry. FAO provided seed-money and backstopped the exercise. GTZ provided support for the overseas study tours and printing of the SFAP document, which was finalised in February 1995.

The SFAP exercise identified 11 programme areas as the following:

· watershed management;
· rural energy;
· social forestry;
· tending and utilisation technology;
· plantation base;
· forest protection
· protection of biodiversity;
· science, technology, and education;
· forestry management;
· utilisation of non-wood products;
· forestry information.

The SFAP document was submitted by the Forestry Department of Yunnan Province through appropriate channels to the Netherlands Embassy in Beijing in September 1995. At the end of 1995, discussions were held in Beijing. The Netherlands Government pledged to provide financial support of US$ 15 million to a programme for tropical forest conservation. In addition, an ITTO mission was fielded in early 1997, and the mission has identified a project to be funded by ITTO.

Qing Fang Forestry Action Programme (QFAP)

In line with the strategy that the NFAP in China will be implemented in stages, the QFAP (covering Qinzhou and Fengcheng Districts) exercise in Guangxi Autonomous Region was launched as an extension of the SFAP exercise in Yunnan Province.

Qinzhou and Fangcheng are located in the southern part of Guangxi Autonomous Region. The geographical features are high in the north and low in the south. The total area is 167.8 thousand ha. The climate belongs to the north tropical climate with plenty of sunshine and rainfall (more than 1,800 mm annually). The area is home for plants such as cinnamomum, anise, and litchi.

By the end of 1996, the population was 3.746 million and the GDP was RMB 12.459 billion yuan. There are 910,100 ha of forestland in total. The Fangcheng and Qinzhou harbours are open to international navigation. The roads can reach all the towns and 90% of the administrative villages.

The QFAP exercise began in the third quarter of 1996. The QFAP team was set up with the Deputy Mayor as the group leader and the Director of the Forestry Bureau as the vice leader. The exercise is technically supervised by the Institute of Forestry Scientech Information, Chinese Academy of Forestry. FAO provided seed money and backstopped the exercise. The QFAP Issues Paper was finalised in mid-1997. The principal issues in the forestry sector development are the following:

1. Decreasing forest resources, degradation of stands, and dwindling of unit-area yield. The major causes are:

· over cutting of fuel wood;

· harvesting surpassing the annual allowable cut;

· shifting cultivation;

· forest fires;

· deforestation caused by mining, forest conversion into agriculture, and other uses;

· unsatisfactory management of the resources.

2. Serious deterioration of biological environment. The overall symptoms are:

· soil erosion;

· environmental pollution;

· low efficiency of forest water conservation ability;

· windbreak and sand dune fixations;

· reduction of plants and wild animals;

· migration of birds and consequent reduction of enemy of pests; and

· frequent occurrences of disasters.

3. Diminishing of biodiversity. The major causes include wild animal hunting and destroying protected species.

4. Slow development of fuel wood forests.

5. Unsound proportional structure of forest resources, which include

· unbalanced structure of forest categories;

· unbalanced structure of forest species (at the moment pine accounts for 80% of the timber growing area and growing stock);

· unbalanced mode of forest resource management.

6. Imperfect coastal shelterbelt system.

7. Improper co-ordination between forest cultivation and industrial development.

8. Insufficient input for forest protection and forest fire control.

9. Unsound system for science and education.

10. Some minorities still live in poverty.

11. Lags behind the managerial system.

The QFAP planning exercise was finalised in 1999 and the QFAP document was printed in September 1999. The exercise identified 12 programmes as follows: environmental protection and community forestry development; the development of North Bay coastal shel-terbelts; harnessing of the river valley; pro-tection of tropical forest biodiversity; rural energy development; plantations development; development of tropical cash tree crops; processing of non wood forest products; forest protection; forest tourism; establishment of tropical forestry information centre; and development of science and technology and education. The Government is seeking support from international partners for the QFAP implementation.

Forest conservation

The Government is highly concerned about wild flora and fauna protection. As of 1998, 633 Nature Reserves have been established, covering an area of 61.5 million ha, or 6.41% of the total land area of the country. In addition, 810 Forest Parks have also been established, covering an area of 7.2 million ha, or about 0.75% of the total land area of the country.

Marketing and trade

The marketing and trade of forest pro-ducts, particularly timber in China PR, was not affected by the economic and financial crisis in Asia. In contrast, imports of logs and sawn timber have been increasing in the past few years, partly because of a dwindling supply of domestic timber in line with the implementation of the policy on natural forest protection programme, which imposes restrictions on harvesting in natural forests of key wa-tersheds, and partly because of a better socio-economic development in the country and competition in wood product exports. Most of the timber imports were coming from Russia.

In regard to exports, China has successfully increased it’s furniture exports by 69.1% within two years from US$ 1.297 billion in 1996 to US$ 2.193 billion in 1998. In 1999, its furniture exports surpassed US$ 2.7 billion. Many issues hamper the development of secondary processing, including design, quality of processing, skilled manpower, knowledge of marketing and trade, competition, packaging and transportation, and banning the use of tropical timber in certain countries.

Focal points
Qu Guilin
Director General, Department of International
Co-operation, State Forestry Administration
No. 18, Hepingli East Street, Beijing 100714
Tel: 86-10-6241-3184
Fax: 86-10-6421-3184


If you don’t climb the high mountain, you can’t view the plain
(Chinese proverb)

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