A publication of the Asian Development Bank No. 2     December 2008
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PRC Leads World in Tree Planting

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) may attract adverse publicity for its polluted cities and rivers, but it is leading the world in one environment field—tree planting. Its citizens are playing a major role in this.

Last year alone, over 500 million people—over a third of the PRC’s population— planted an astonishing 2.27 billion trees on a voluntary basis. Since a treeplanting exercise began in 1981, over 51.5 billion trees had been planted by the end of 2007.

In addition are several major national ecological projects, including those around the Yangtze River and the Three North Shelterbelt Program, which aim to plant trees over an area of 3.56 million square meters (m2) in 13 provinces by 2050.

The PRC government adopted forestation as a national policy after people cut trees to clear areas for agriculture. In the summer of 1981, several provinces in the western PRC, including Sichuan and Shannxi, experienced severe flooding. This prompted PRC leaders, including then Premier Deng Xiaoping, to review the causes of the floods. He urged people to plant trees.

As a result of such efforts, notes a report by the PRC’s State Forestry Administration, the PRC provides more than half of the new trees planted worldwide each year. The PRC now has 533,000 m2 of man-made forests, one third of the world’s man-made forests.

The PRC’s target is to have one fifth of its land area forested by 2010, says Lei Jiafu, vice director of the State Forestry Administration. This is a credible goal, considering that the PRC had already forested 18.2% (1.75 million m2) by the end of 2007, compared to only 12% (1.15 million m2) in 1981. In sharp contrast, global forest cover decreased by about a million square meters over 15 years.

Moreover, the PRC is providing incentives that may further increase forest cover. The government recently introduced reforms in the management and ownership of forests. Under the old system, forests were collectively owned, and people had to seek approval from authorities before cutting down trees. Under the new system, the forests are still publicly owned but a farmer can earn the right to use the land for as long as 70 years. This may encourage small farmers to make money by planting more trees.