Big bucks for the environment – China leads the way


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You hear a lot of talk these days about paying people to protect the environment. Most of it is just that – talk. China is putting its money where its mouth is. Since 1999 they’ve paid farmers over $40 billion dollars to convert hilly and unproductive crop land to forest.

The Sloping Land Conversion Program, also known as ’Grain for Green’, is supposed to increase total forest area by almost 10% by 2010. By 2004 they had already reached nearly half their goal. As of then, fifteen million farmers in 25 provinces had converted more than seven million hectares of crop land back into forest or grassland.

The program provides farmers with cash payments, grain, and free saplings. Those that plant timber trees receive support for eight years, while those that plant orchards and grass get payments for five and two years, respectively. The central government funds the program, but local governments administer it.

In 2003, Z. Xu, M.T. Bennett, R. Tao, and J. Xu from the Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy (CCAP) surveyed 358 families in villages participating in the program in the provinces of Gansu, Shaanxi, and Sichuan. These three western provinces were the first provinces to join the program. The households surveyed included both families that received payments and others that did not. An International Forestry Review article called ’China’s Sloping Land Conversion Programme Four Years On: Current Situation and Pending Issues’ presents the results.

The paper shows that the program has delivered impressive results, but still has problems. The program expanded much faster than the capacity to monitor and administer it. Many local governments hold back part of the payments they are supposed to give to farmers to cover their own operating costs. Farmers don’t always get paid enough to fully compensate for the income they lose by planting smaller areas. Some farmers were pushed into joining the program, instead of doing so voluntarily. The program does not always target the steepest and most fragile locations. Many planted trees don’t survive.

If you are going to invest $40 billion dollars in something it is awful important to get it right. So it is good that the Chinese also invest in groups like CCAP and the Forest Economics and Development Research Center (FEDRC) to study how to do that.

We could all learn a lot from the Chinese example.


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Further reading

To request a free electronic copy of the paper or to send comments or queries to the authors you can write Michael Bennett at: or Jintao Xu at:

The full reference of the article is: Xu, Z., Bennett, M.T., Tao, R., and Xu, J. 2004. “China’s Sloping Land Conversion Program Four Years on: Current Situation and Pending Issues”, International Forestry Review, Vol. 6 (3-4): 317-326.

The article forms part of a special issue of the International Forestry Review focused on China, which also includes papers on China’s forest resources, demand and supply of forest products, markets and trade, collective forests, timber plantations, the bamboo sector, and forestry research. These papers can be found free of charge on the Forest Trends website,

Topic(s) :   Restoration