Liu Tuo is Director-General of the National
Bureau to Combat Desertification
of the State Forestry Administration
UNCCD has had both direct and indirect influence on China's success in combating desertification through tree planting.
China is one of the countries suf-fering most severely from desertification. Approximately 2.6 million square kilometres are affected by desertification, more than one-quarter of China's total land area. Moreover, the area affected by desertification is still increasing, by 2 460 km2 annually.
It is, and has long been, one of China's basic national policies to develop forestry, to improve the environment and to combat desertification. The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) has encouraged the country's efforts towards these objectives in many ways.
Shelterbelts planted in the uplands of Qinghai Province permit cultivation of agricultural crops in a formerly desertified area; a still uncontrolled area of moving sands can be seen in the background
- Q. LU
The influences of UNCCD have been both direct and indirect, and include the following:
In recent years, the role of combating desertification in promoting sustainable socio-economic development has been emphasized, and local awareness of the urgency and challenges of combating desertification has been raised.
China signed UNCCD in October 1994 and ratified it in February 1997. The convention entered into force in the country in May 1997.
To implement UNCCD, the Chinese Government has established an effective cooperation mechanism, set up various management agencies at different levels and promoted good cooperation among sectors. In 1994, the Chinese Government set up the China National Coordinating Group to Combat Desertification and the China National Committee for the Implementation of UNCCD (CCICCD), composed of members from 18 ministries of the State Council. In 1997, the National Bureau to Combat Desertification was established; its main role is the coordination, management and instruction of the nation's programmes for combating desertification. At the same time, the China National Research and Development Centre of Combating Desertification, the China National Training Centre of Combating Desertification and the China National Desertification Monitoring Centre were also established. Key provinces and autonomous regions with an important role in combating desertification have also set up corresponding agencies.
China's efforts to combat desertification predated UNCCD; under the "Three North" Programme, reforestation activities have been carried out since the 1970s: top, poplars planted in Inner Mongolia desert area; bottom, a reforested area in Inner Mongolia
- FAO/17952/J.Y. PIEL
National Action Programmes, which spell out the practical measures to be taken to combat desertification in specific ecosystems, are key instruments in the implementation of UNCCD in countries that are parties to the convention.
China's National Action Programme to Combat Desertification is the national guideline for effective implementation of UNCCD. It was reformulated in 1994 from a plan originally begun in 1991. It was based on documents such as the text of UNCCD, China's Agenda 21 and action plans for existing large-scale, transregional ecological improvement programmes such as the "Three North" Programme (one of the most prominent large-scale ecological improvement programmes, which has established a plantation area of almost 28 million hectares in the "Three North" area [northeast, north and northwest China]). The National Action Programme is financed through four channels: central government allocation, locally raised funds, discounted-interest loans and overseas financial support. In addition, the Ministry of Finance has also provided funds for desertification monitoring.
The National Action Programme was designed in three phases, which are consistent with China's national economic and social development plan: 1996-2000, 2001-2010 and 2011-2050.
Large-scale public awareness raising activities have led to the establishment of women's groups for combating desertification through tree planting; here, women plant trees in Xinjiang Province
- X.F. ZHANG
Since the first World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought on 17 June 1995, China has carried out large-scale publicity and public awareness raising activities for combating desertification in Beijing and dozens of other large cities. Many new types of afforestation and anti-desertification activities have appeared, such as the establishment of women's groups for combating desertification by tree planting and the establishment of commemorative forests (Reporter's Forest, People's Liberation Army Forest, Communist Youth League Forest, Women's Forest, Youngsters' Forest, Marriage Forest, Funeral Forest, etc). On the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought and other commemorative days, a large number of volunteers, including the aged and the young, men and women, adults and children, officials and soldiers, workers and farmers, carry out activities such as tree planting to combat desertification and improve the environment. An exceptional example of the enthusiasm raised is a female rural farmer in Shanxi Province who contracted 110 000 mu (7 333 ha) of sandy wasteland between 1995 and 1998; under the household contracting system she has so far brought 40 000 mu of this land under control, with vegetation cover of more than 30 percent.
Through an effective coordination mechanism, CCICCD has coordinated various sectors' functions in combating desertification. The State Planning Commission has organized the implementation of a National Eco-county Programme, which supports counties that have made outstanding efforts in environmental rehabilitation and demonstrates their achievements to the whole nation. The railway and communication sectors have carried out a number of green corridor programmes. The water resources sector has facilitated control of soil and water erosion in desertification-affected areas. The agriculture sector has set up model counties for eco-agricultural development. The People's Bank of China has increased the amount of discounted loans for combating desertification with an annual contribution of 1.2 billion yuan renminbi (approximately US$140 million). The National Agricultural Development Office has increased the ratio of inputs for combating desertification in its comprehensive agricultural development programme. Other sectors have also contributed to UNCCD implementation.
The State has listed combating desertification as a research topic of great significance, and many efforts have been made to strengthen study on basic and theoretical issues. Applied techniques for combating desertification have been extended and research institutions and technical staff are encouraged to provide technical services. Education on combating desertification has been strengthened to incorporate extensive training for technical personnel and for farmers in particular, including on-the-job training. CCICCD and the China National Training Centre of Combating Desertification have held an advanced training course in combating desertification every year since 1995. Since 1996, large volumes of training materials have been compiled and printed yearly under the organization of the Secretariat of CCICCD to help disseminate knowledge and popularize technologies for combating deserti-fication in rural areas. The Secretariat of CCICCD has developed new means of popularizing technology, such as organizing technicians to help families combat desertification and a recently organized "One Hundred Experts Going to the Countryside" activity.
The National Bureau to Combat Desertification and the Secretariat of UNCCD have both given important support to these activities (see Box).
Shulinzhao - a model for promoting technology of desertification control
In the 1970s, 85 percent of the land of Shulinzhao Township was threatened by sand encroachment, and sand movement and wind disasters caused hardship for most of the population. Because of the harsh natural conditions and poor economy, many of the men had to emigrate to find work, and mostly old people, women and children remained. For survival, the Women's Union of the township organized all the women farmers to fight against sand movement and to reclaim the desert land. They adopted many new technologies, such as water-saving irrigation, drip irrigation, use of greenhouses, use of a soil conditioner that improves the soil's water retention and enhances fertilizer availability, use of plastic mulching material and advanced rice cultivation techniques.
After the Executive Secretary of UNCCD visited Shulinzhao Township in 1995, the National Bureau to Combat Desertification (NBCD), in collaboration with the Inner Mongolia Forestry Department, in 1996 established Shulinzhao as a demonstration project on combating desertification at the community level. Each year NBCD allocates a certain portion of the budget and provides technical assistance to support the implementation of the Local Area Development Programme in Shulinzhao. The UNCCD Secretariat has also supported Shulinzhao, encouraging the villagers to use plantations for further stabilization of sand dunes, helping to eliminate poverty and raising awareness at the grassroots level. After 20 years of struggle against wind and sand disasters, forest and woodland cover has increased.
In keeping with China's National Action Programme to Combat Deserti-fication, national desertification monitoring is carried out to gain timely and accurate information on the national trend in desertification and to provide professional information for macro decision-making in combating desertification. National desertification monitoring is designed at three levels: national macro-monitoring, regular monitoring in sensitive areas and special monitoring in fixed positions. Monitoring has been strengthened through the use of modern equipment, the introduction of advanced technologies, training of monitoring personnel and establishment of a national network system.
A nationwide inventory on desertified land was carried out in China from 1994 to 1996. In accordance with the spirit of UNCCD, CCICCD published the China country paper to combat desertification (www.din.net.cn/din/book1/luqi1.html) in 1996, and a distribution map of China's desertified land area with a scale of 1:2.5 million was produced. The report and the map systematically revealed the land area, distribution and causes of desertification and analysed the desertification expansion trend.
Recently, the Chinese Government has completed the Second Macro-monitoring and Key-Area Monitoring, which lasted two and a half years. The monitoring involved participation by 13 000 people and more than 300 000 sample plots; it cost tens of millions of yuan renminbi (millions of dollars), and tens of millions of data items were collected. The monitoring has clearly shown the status, distribution and causes of land desertification and will provide systematic and scientific evidence for decision-making. The Chinese Government will soon publicize the results.
To date, China has promulgated about 20 laws related to environmental protection as well as a series of by-laws and regulations. A legal guarantee system has been put in place combining environmental protection laws and other relevant laws and regulations promulgated by the State and local governments.
To strengthen implementation of UNCCD, the Secretariat of CCICCD began in 1996 to draft the Law of Combating Desertification. The drafting process, based on many surveys, extensive research and desertification expertise, has lasted five years. The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress has now begun the legislative process of formulating the law. The guidelines of the law are as follows:
At the same time, the central and regional governments have promulgated many related and complementary regulations. Governments at all levels have strengthened enforcement of the laws and regulations related to desertification.
To attract more people to engage in afforestation and anti-desertification activities, the Chinese Government has adopted preferential policies including discounted government loans for programmes on combating desertification and deduction or exemption from taxes on benefits generated from development of barren hills and sandy wasteland. In recent years, such new policy measures as auctioning of the "four barrens" (barren hills, barren gullies, barren desert and barren land), converting sloping farmland into forest or grassland, mountain closure, household contracting and work relief have been promoted to encourage farmers to purchase the usufruct right for further development so as to speed up restoration of vegetation and mobilize the public enthusiasm for combating desertification.
As a result of this encouragement, some desertification-control enterprises have sprung up and assisted industrialization. Between 1984 and 1996, one farmer in Dingbian County contracted 171 poor households to carry out desertification control on 7 400 ha of sandy land that he had contracted in his name. By the end of 1996, 4 000 ha of this land had been completely controlled with vegetation cover of up to 92.5 percent. To industrialize this entity, the farmer set up the Sandy Land Control Company of Dingbian County. With the improvement of the ecological environment, it became possible to develop industries in the area, including a brick factory, a pig-breeding farm, fodder processing and a herbal medicine plantation.
As China carries out the "Great West China Development", some large companies have begun to turn to desertification combating and ecological industry. In 1995, the Yinguangxia Corporation of Ningxia Autonomous Region, an enterprise until then engaged in electronics, reoriented itself to ecological programmes. It began with medicinal herb planting and has raised a shelterbelt 187 km long. After five years, Yinguangxia has controlled more than 60 000 mu (4 000 ha) of sandy land, which has become beautiful green oasis. More and more commercial enterprises are following this company's model. In the small county of Taole, for example, 13 enterprises are engaged in combating desertification, and 120 000 mu (8 000 ha) of sandy land have been controlled and put to use. The total investment in the county has reached 25 billion yuan renminbi (approximately US$3 million).
UNCCD has promoted international cooperation in combating desertification, which is important to China. Some international organizations and some developed countries have helpfully supported China since the country's acceding to UNCCD. For example, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has provided financial support, and UNDP and FAO have provided technical support. The United Nations Office to Combat Desertification and Drought (UNSO) has provided technical support for setting up China's National Desertification Combating Fund. In recent years, the Chinese Government has signed bilateral cooperation agreements for desertification projects with the governments of countries such as Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Australia, Canada, Belgium, Norway and Sweden. Germany, for instance, from 1993 to 1996 assisted China in establishing ecological afforestation programmes with total granted funding of 37 million deutsche mark (about US$23 million). Good results have been achieved in the UNDP-assisted project "Capacity Building for China's Implementation of UNCCD" and in the German Government assisted project of afforestation for desertification control and ecological rehabilitation in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region and in Liaoning Province.
UNCCD has taken measures to help State organizations obtain financial resources. For example, the Coordinaton Meeting for Partnership Building and Resources Mobilization for UNCCD Implementation in China, Particularly in the Western Region, was convened in Beijing on 6 and 7 June 2001. The meeting was hosted and sponsored by the State Forestry Administration of China with co-sponsorship by the the Secretariat of UNCCD, UNCCD's Global Mechanism (GM), UNDP and the Asian Development Bank. The Secretariat and the GM are coordinating potential donors to obtain concrete support for China, and the GM has pledged to invest in field projects in several areas in China. In addition, the UNCCD Secretariat has supported non-governmental organizations in China. For example, in 1996, using financing from the Netherlands, the Secretariat of UNCCD provided US$20 000 to the Desert Reclamation Association of Dalate County in Inner Mongolia for use in encouraging villagers to stabilize sand dunes through tree plantation, to alleviate poverty and raise awareness at grassroots level.
The Chinese Government has always attached great importance to forestry and combating desertification, and in recent years combating desertification has been particularly emphasized as crucial to sustainable socio-economic development. Combating desertification has been incorporated as a key programme in the Outline for the Tenth State Economic and Social Development Plan, ratified by the Ninth National People's Congress on 15 March 2001. That document states that China should "strengthen desertification combating and grassland protection", "regard protecting and improving the environment as an important issue for developing the economy and raising people's living standard, strengthen ecological rehabilitation and prevent the environment from deterioration...." The Central Government has made it clear that combating desertification is a high development priority in the Western China Development Strategy. Afforestation, amelioration of the environment and combating desertification have become a crucial political issue.
The Chinese Government's active implementation of UNCCD has had an important role in promoting such awareness on the part of policy-makers and public alike. This awareness has led to action, assisted also by international cooperation promoted under UNCCD, which has resulted in significant progress in controlling the spread of desertification and in rehabilitating desertified areas.