Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page

24. Community forestry in mountain development: a case study in Guizhou Province, China
Zhang Shougong
[33], Li Weichang[34], Lu Wenming[35] and Deng Huafeng[36]


China is a country with vast mountainous areas stretching from west to east. Out of the 1500 mountainous counties, 60 percent are distributed in the western region with the highlands taking up as much as 69 percent of the total land area nationwide. Mountain population constitutes 56 percent of the country's total, and more than 80 percent of the minority groups inhabit the mountainous areas and enjoy a rich cultural diversity. Mountain development is the key activity for the Great Development of West China. The mountain population in China has, for many years, followed the principles of harmonized development of both ecology and economy. Management measures have been used to optimize the economic structure and improve the people's living standards in mountainous areas. As a result, this has led to an active exploration of an integrated management and development strategy for ecosystem improvement and sustainable development, and is also one important component for the Great Development of West China. Those pilot counties selected for integrated mountain development have continuously explored creative development mechanisms and models. Mountain forestry is community forestry, and is the key component for mountain community development. The basic feature is that it is owned, managed, administrated and benefited by the people. The adoption of participatory approach in integrated mountain development has speeded up mountain development pace and provided useful experiences and models in the application of community forestry in mountain development. This is particularly so where farmers are regarded as the main implementers, ownership system reform is the core issue, farmer's indigenous knowledge is respected, and a system of natural resources management is established.


China is a country with vast mountainous areas, up to as much as 69 percent of the total land area nationwide. Out of the total of 2300 counties in China, some 1500 are located in mountainous areas. The mountain population makes up 56 percent of the country's total, and more than 80 percent of the minority groups inhabit the mountainous areas. After the implementation of the Key Poverty Alleviation Programme in 1987, the majority of the poverty-stricken population remains concentrated in mountainous areas. Mountain people have accumulated, after hundreds of years' of practice, rich experiences in improving and protecting the mountains with their daily life and food heavily relying on mountainous resources. The National Government has adopted multiple measures to encourage mountain people to plant trees, construct new water conservancy facilities, prepare lands, improve low-yield agriculture lands, conserve soil and water, build new roads, establish power plants, develop economic forests at mountain valleys, carry out watershed management, and develop crop growing and animal husbandry industries which have all yielded remarkable achievements.

However, due to continuously deteriorating mountain environment caused by the vulnerability of mountainous ecosystem and inappropriate economic activities, these areas suffer from serious underdevelopment with impoverishment of the people's living conditions. This delayed development of mountainous areas, which also serve as resource and energy bases, has restrained the whole development process of relatively developed plain areas, and further influenced China's general socio-economic development situation by and large. The natural and socio-economic conditions of most of the mountainous areas in China can be roughly summarized as "Five Richness, Four Scarcities, Three Weaknesses and Two Massiveness", which can be explained as follows: "Five Richness" means mountainous areas are rich in slope lands, special local products, water resources, mineral resources and tourist attractions; "Four Scarcities" represent the lack of arable lands, thermal energy, funding resources and integrated utilization; "Three Weaknesses" stand for poor transportation conditions, poor economic management standards and poor scientific and technical capabilities; while "Two Massiveness" refers to sharp vertical changes and great development potentials. In general, we can regard the "Five Richness" as advantages, "Four Scarcities" as problems, "Three Weaknesses" as the key problems to solve, and "Two Massiveness" as favourable situations for development and utilization.

In early 1996, the Central Leading Group for Rural Development directed the former Ministry of Forestry to coordinate 11 ministries, commissions and financial institutions from the central level to organize and implement the pilot work for integrated mountain development nationwide. The implementation of integrated mountain development is one of a few "grand" strategies in the process of China's economic development and modernization. The major activities for integrated mountain development are improving soil conditions, harnessing water systems, planting trees, building new roads and establishing power plants. These activities are implemented in the 114 counties selected nationwide as pilot counties for integrated mountain development. People inhabiting mountainous areas in China have, after many years' practice, explored a few models of integrated mountain development, which are suitable for China's own conditions. For example, the "Taihang Mountain Model" combines scientific research, teaching and demonstration methods, as well as expert know-how and fund introduction. Another model called "Dabie Mountain Model" focuses on developing local key industries based on local strengths. The third model is called "Shanjiang Lake Model" which follows the principle of "harness lakes first to harness rivers, manage rivers first to manage mountains, improve mountains first to improve human capacities". The fourth model is called "Changbai Mountain Model" which industrializes agricultural resources in mountainous areas. The fifth model is called "Small Forestry Manor Model" which carries out an integrated development of crop growing, biogas and animal husbandry activities, and introduces multiple ownership economy into mountain improvement and development.

However, in the current situation, China's mountainous areas are not being well developed with the approaches for development also being inappropriate. Rich resources in mountainous areas have not been wisely used with many mountainous areas still suffering from backwardness and poverty. Problems are outstanding, for example, in aspects of regarding agriculture more important than forestry, paying greater attention to utilization than to rehabilitation, and giving more weight to major industries than secondary industries.

Unlike previous development approaches, China's current mountain development is being carried out according to the principle of sustainable development with the following characteristics:

(i) Have a new understanding of mountainous areas: this regards integrated mountain development as an important measure to build a strong nation as well as improve the people's quality of life and sustainable development. Major activities for integrated mountain development are improving soil conditions, harnessing water systems, planting trees, building new roads and establishing power plants. This integrated mountain development serves not only the mountain population, but is also an important issue relating to the state's security, peoples' survival and poverty eradication. This is, on one hand, a great measure for improving national land territory and harnessing river systems, and, on the other hand, a fundamental plan to vigorously develop mountain economy and enable the mountain population to eradicate poverty and have a improved livelihood. All these issues are of vital importance for the overall national development.

(ii) Carry out a systematic development and an integrated management in mountainous areas. Ecological and economic theories are to be pursued to guide mountain development and promote sustainable development. Without exploitation, all resources can only have potentials with no values for economic development. However, mountain development has to observe the principles of sustainable and integrated development. Integrated development refers to the overall development of all production elements, which include natural resources and also social resources such as human resources, scientific and technological resources and information and financial resources. Integrated mountain development actually refers to the effective combination of the tasks of three departments of agriculture, forestry and water resources. It means the effective combination of soil and water conservation, watershed management with agricultural production and afforestation as well as economic forest development in mountainous areas. It also requires taking into consideration all other related tasks (for example, scientific extension), and to incorporate the agriculture, forestry, animal husbandry, secondary industry and fishery industries. The new production layout is therefore being formed with the strategies of integrated mountain development and more intensive agriculture development in mountainous areas. The previous isolated development of each department/ sector with uncoordinated tasks was changed, and mountain resources can be actually utilized appropriately. This integrated development, by combining production, ecological development and resource cultivation, is the only development strategy that could satisfy the complex characteristics of mountainous areas.

(iii) The major activities for integrated mountain development are improving soil conditions, harnessing water systems, planting trees, building new roads and establishing power plants. The policy of "revitalizing mountain development by using scientific and technological methods" was adopted. Most of the mountainous counties are poverty-stricken, where farmers' production and living conditions are very poor, particularly in terms of infrastructure development such as transportation. Roads are not well connected and are of low grade. Electricity grids are old and cannot guarantee the supply of electricity, and the market is immature with insufficient information available. On the other hand, most of these mountainous areas are the origins of big rivers in China, they shoulder the arduous tasks of water conservancy and soil conservation. Yet years of inappropriate development and utilization have led to severe soil erosion, deteriorated ecosystem, degraded land quality and low productivity in the mountainous areas of China. Ecological enhancement and infrastructure improvement must be strengthened in mountain development.

(iv) Forestry's importance has been raised to a high level in integrated mountain development, and its role in mountain development shall be replanned.


Mountain forestry regards mountain community as the basis, and the main managers for mountain forestry are the members of mountain communities. Therefore, mountain forestry is, in principle, one of the major socio-economic activities of the community within a certain territory, and the ownership and participation of farmers are its main characteristics.

Forestry provides all kinds of products and services to community inhabitants, and is the vital material base and ecological foundation for promoting integrated mountain development. The demands for forest goods by community inhabitants are diverse, and the objectives for forest management are also multifold. The current isolated sector-run forestry with timber production as the sole purpose cannot meet the various demands by the communities.

In China, mountain forestry is actually community forestry and is the key component of mountain community development. The basic feature is that it is owned, managed, administrated and benefited by the people. Some conflict-solving mechanisms, such as local rules and regulations, are provided for forestry related activities. Some traditional forest culture (for example, the "firs at an age of 18 years old" from southeast of Guizhou Province, which means that fir trees planted when a girl is born can be harvested as soon as she gets married), the protection of landscape forest, and forest management systems such as agroforestry and admiration of forests, have all made a vital impact on the protection and development of forests. Meanwhile, community authority or coordinating organization exerts a significant role in managing forest resources as public products for providing welfare to the whole community.

Mountain forestry is in the transition to market economy system. This transition regards ownership reform as a core issue and family management contracting system as basis. It is orientating towards a modernized enterprise system featuring clear ownership and responsibility, separating government functions from enterprise operations and carrying out scientific management. The rapid development of major and secondary rural industries and the maturation and improvement of rural markets have prompted the industrialized development of community forestry. Mountain communities play a increasingly important role in forestry development of mountainous areas.


This is a part of the project "Community Natural Resources Management in the Mountainous Areas of Guizhou Province" which commenced in 1995. The pilot zone of the project is located at the Kaizuo Township in one of the counties in Guizhou Province. The purpose of this pilot project is to study the application of participatory approach in integrated mountain development where forestry plays a leading role.

In 1991, six pilot villages belonging to the Kaizuo Township were enlisted as the Integrated Agricultural Development Pilot Zones of Guizhou Province. The implementation process was as follows: the selection and procurement of tree species were carried out by experts, and then seedlings were distributed as loans (with no contracts being signed, the farmers were only required to sign their names to get the seedlings), and the farmers were responsible for planting. During the project implementation, a total of 66.67 hm2 of economic trees were planted including pear, apple, peach, grape and chestnut, with an average of 0.27 hm2 planted by each individual household. Due to the large planting area, labour inputs were insufficient and fertilizer applications were inadequate; the quality of planting therefore could not be guaranteed. The training on management techniques also lagged behind. In addition, some varieties were also unsuitable to either the local climate (such as apple) or market (such as pear as nearby there is a large pear farm which competed for the market). All these factors had led to the very low production of these species. According to the survey carried out in 1995, except for a few households, the majority of these farmers almost did not get any income, which had shaken their confidence to continue management.

In 1995, based on the rich resources of barren mountains in the pilot zones as well as the requirement by the community for developing commercial forests, the project team decided to establish forest plantation as one measure to improve the effectiveness of using barren mountains. The following methods were adopted after analysing the reasons for failures, and market demands:

Establish experimental orchards. In order to avoid blind development, the project team had discussed with villagers and village committee and agreed to first establish one experimental orchard each in Dabuyang Village and Xiaozhai Village. The following principles were defined together with farmers to set up such experimental orchards:

Clarify the responsibility, rights and benefits. These should be clarified by signing the contracts. The project team is responsible for introducing high quality seedlings and conducting training. Farmer households are responsible for guaranteeing all the labour, green manure required to establish and manage peach orchards, and digging holes, applying fertilizers, planting seedlings and watering trees according to the requirements to ensure the planting quality. After planting, farmers must build enclosures out of their own investments, take part in the training on time and guarantee that management is carried out according to the project technicians' instructions. The general policy is that those who plant and manage the trees will be the beneficiaries.

Set up management organizations and institutions. An administration group was set up each in Dabuyang Village and Xiaozhai Village for managing the experimental peach orchards. Detailed management procedures were also being developed, for example, clear punishment regulations were stipulated for activities such as stealing and trampling by cattle and horses. These were discussed and passed within village committees and announced in village meetings. The administration group was responsible for implementing these procedures as well as communicating and coordinating with village committees.

Conduct technical training. Corresponding technical training courses were to be held at different growth stages of the fruit trees (for example, planting, trimming, fertilizer application, pest and disease controlling, thinning, harvesting, product marketing, etc). Technicians from the project team often carried out on-the-spot guidance at the orchards. Attention was also being paid to train future trainers. Some study tours were also organized to exchange experiences and promote household-to-household technical dissemination.

Extend pilot zones. The fruit trees started to bear fruit in the third year according to expectations with remarkable results (average output was over RMB 600/667 m2). Many villagers expressed their desire to plant fruit trees at their allocated barren mountains after seeing these fruit orchards and listening to the introductions by the farmer households involved. By summarizing the experiences of the Dabuyang Village and Xiaozhai Village, another 20.7 hm2 have been planted in the experimental zones also with wonderful growth response.

Setting up natural resource management systems

In order to ensure the success and continuation of the project, it is vital to set up natural resource management systems. In the process of discussion on stipulating such management systems and establishing operational mechanism, the villagers reported that each village had its own conventions on developing village rules and regulations to maintain the normal order of production and livelihood of the local community. Although these village rules and regulations are only social products with closed, backward and incomplete legal features, the binding force comes mainly from comprehensive deals with familial and moral merits. However, since they are developed from self-motivated participation of all villagers, and the contents combine the actual situations of villages with a very detailed system of awards and punishments, after a long implementation history, they have been transformed into simple but effective operational mechanisms. Therefore, they are quite powerful with full binding authority. Hence, in the mountainous rural areas, particularly since the laws and regulations are being poorly enforced and people are lacking in legal awareness, these binding rules and regulations indeed play a unique role in guiding the villagers' behaviours and administrating the local communities.

The project team believes that this kind of resource management system from local village individually-based rules and regulations is closer to the actual situation of each village and is more comprehensive, detailed and applicable than a unified regulation for the whole township. The team therefore decided to graft their original thought for developing such a unified regulation to the existing local rules and regulations. After discussion, this idea was being thoroughly understood and agreed by villagers. All villages have, according to their real situations, developed natural resource management systems. The process for developing such systems is as follows: based on the extensive collection of villagers' opinions, a consultation meeting is organized at each village with village committee members and village representatives to initially define the contents of the management system. The project team prepares drafts, and meetings are organized to modify, add and improve these drafts. Once the systems are completely developed, village meetings are organized to publicize these systems, which will then be implemented according to the local rules and regulations accepted by the villagers. During the project time frame, by using this method, many management systems had been developed at each experimental village, including forest resource management system, management system on utilization of water resource facilities, cattle grazing management system and village road management system, which all contributed to the community's effective management of various resources. For example, one of the articles in the Forest Resources Management System in Dabuyang Village stipulates that "any villager who illegally cuts the trees belonging to the collectively managed forests or trees contracted to other villagers shall be fined RMB10 for each tree with the diameter smaller than 4 cm felled." It is not possible to stipulate such a detailed punishment article for similar destructions in the national laws and regulations. However, if such non-serious but frequent destructive actions were not stopped promptly, the overall natural resource management would lose its control. This kind of resource management system, combining local rules and regulations at village level, has been an effective strategy right at the very source. We can therefore say that the development of an effective village-level natural resource management system and mechanism suitable for local conditions, which is also in accordance with relevant national laws and regulations, is the key to realizing sustainable community resources management.


Chen Guiming. 1998. Rural social sciences. China Agriculture University Publishing House.

Deng Huafeng. 2001. Study on social forestry engineering in South China's collective forest areas. Post doctoral dissertation.

Lu Wenming. 2002. Study on private forestry policies in China. China Environmental Sciences Publishing House.

Modern Rural Development Research Centre of Guizhou Provincial Academy of Agricultural Sciences. 2001. Substantial evidence analysis of participatory approach in natural resources management in mountainous communities in Guizhou Province. Guizhou Agricultural Sciences (29) 4.

Xu Guozhen. 1998. Community forestry. China Forestry Publishing House.

Zhang Shougong. 2001. Introduction of sustainable forest management. China Forestry Publishing House.

[33] Chinese Academy of Forestry, Wan Shou Shan, Beijing 100091, China; E-mail: [email protected]
[34] Chinese Academy of Forestry, Wan Shou Shan, Beijing 100091, China; E-mail: [email protected]
[35] Chinese Academy of Forestry, Wan Shou Shan, Beijing 100091, China; E-mail: [email protected]
[36] Beijing Forestry University, Beijing, China.

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page