Scope and tasks of the program
According to “some advices on further improving pilot land conversion from farmland back to forestland by the State Council (State Council Ref.  24)”, “some advices on further improving policy measures for land conversion from farmland back to forestland (State Council ref.  10) and the “regulations on land conversion from farmland back to forestland”, based on in-depth investigations and wide solicitation of comments from relevant provinces (autonomous regions, municipalities direct under the central government), agencies and experts, and according to the scale of 14.67 million ha of land conversion from farmland back to forestland determined by the second plenary meeting of the State Council’s leading group for western region development, the State Forestry Administration together with the State Development and Reform Commission, the Ministry of Finance, the Office of Western Region Development of the State Council, the State Food Administration jointly formulated “the program plan for land conversion from farmland back to forestland (2001-2010)”.
The program covers Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei, Shanxi, Inner Mongolia, Liaoning, Jilin, Heilongjiang, Anhui, Jiangxi, Henan, Hubei, Hunan, Guangxi, Hainan, Chongqing, Sichuan, Guizhou, Yunnan, Tibet, Shaanxi, Gansu, Qinghai, Ningxia and Xinjiang, a total of 25 provinces (autonomous regions, municipalities directly under the central government) and the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, involving 1,897 counties (including municipalities, districts, flags). According to the principle of taking measures targeted to the harms, considering the extents of water loss and soil erosion, wind erosion and desertification, hydrological and thermal conditions and landforms, the program regions were grouped into 10 categories, i.e. high mountains and deep valleys in the southwest, mountainous and hilly areas in Sichuan, Chongqing, Hubei and Hunan, low mountains and hilly areas in the middle and lower reaches of Yangtze River, Yunnan-Guizhou plateau, hilly mountains in Hainan and Guangxi, alpine steppes and meadows in the origins of Yangtze River and Yellow river, arid desertification region in Xinjiang, loess hills and valleys, arid and semi-arid areas in north China, mountains and sandy lands in northeast China. Meanwhile, according to the principles of focusing on key issues, priority setting and highlighting actual effects, 856 counties in the upper reaches of Yangtze River, middle and upper reaches of Yellow River, Beijing-Tianjin sandstorm origins and key lake catchments, Hongshuihe River basin, Heihe River basin and Tarim River basin.
The objectives and tasks of the program are: Up to 2010, 14.67 million ha of afforestation of reclaimed land will be completed, 17.33 million ha of afforestation in barren mountains and barren land (both types of afforestation include the pilot sites of land conversion from 1999 to 2000) suitable for growing trees will be completed, steep farmland will be basically converted to forestland, severe sandy farmland will be basically under control, the coverage of forest and grasses in the program regions will increase by 4.5%. The ecological status will be evidently improved in the program regions.
Currently, according to the State Council’s arrangement for developing program plan for the land conversion program and post land conversion policies, the State Forestry Administration is preparing the “11th 5 year plan for the land conversion program”.
Major policy measures
1) Government provides free subsidies of food and living allowances to farmers who conducted land conversion. The subsidy criteria are: 2,250 kg/year food (unprocessed raw grain) for each ha of converted land in Yangtze River basin and south China; 1,500 kg/year food (unprocessed raw grain) for each ha of converted land in Yellow River basin and north China. Since 2004, the subsidy of food changed to cash subsidy in principle. The central government provides the subsidy calculated at 1.4 RMB for each kg of food (unprocessed raw grain) to various provinces (autonomous regions, municipalities directly under the central government) on a contract basis. Specific subsidy criteria and methods of cashing were determined by provincial government according to their local realistic conditions. The annual subsidy for living allowances was 300 RMB/ha for land conversion. The duration for food and living allowance subsidies was 5 years for land converted to grassland in 1999-2001, 2 years for land converted to grassland after 2002, 5 years for land converted to fruit trees, 8 years for land converted to ecological forest. For sloping lands not yet contracted to households or in fallow, only a subsidy for seeds and planting stocks was provided for conversion back to forestland. While receiving the subsidies, the recipients should plant trees according to the requirements of the operation design and the contract in barren mountains and wasteland suitable for growing trees.
2) The government provides subsidy for the costs of seeds, plant stocks and planting to farmers who conducted land conversion. The subsidization criteria was 750 RMB/ha for conversion of farmland and planting trees in barren mountains and wastelands suitable for growing trees.
3) Prioritizing ecology in land conversion. Ecological forests established by the land conversion program were counted on a county-based basis, and should not be less than 80% of the total area of land conversion. For surplus area of fruit trees, only costs for seeds, plant stocks and planting were subsidized, but not for food and living allowances.
4) The government guarantees farmers’ ownership of trees (grasses) gown in the converted lands. After land conversion, the peoples’ government above county level issues certificates of forest (grasses) ownerships to farmers according to the “forest law” and the “grassland law”, specifying the ownership and management rights, and approves necessary procedures of land use changes according to law.
5) The duration of contracted management right of the converted land can be extended to 70 years. The contract for land management can be extended upon expiration according to relevant laws and regulations. The management rights of forests grown in converted land, barren mountains and wastelands can be inherited and transferred according to law.
6) After the subsidy of fund and food expires, under the precondition of no destruction to the overall ecological functions and with approval by competent authorities, the owner of the forest who converted the land to forest can harvest the trees according to law.
7) The government provides subsidy for a certain proportion of the costs for preparation of and research support to the land conversion program as the infrastructural investment for the land conversion program. And the subsidy fund was arranged by State Council’s agency responsible for development and planning in the annual budget according to progress of the program. Local expenditure on inspection, final review, and cashing was covered by local finance. The expenditure needed by central government agencies was covered by central finance.
8) The land conversion program was implemented by a provincial government (autonomous region, municipality directly under the central government) responsibility system. Provincial government (autonomous region, municipality directly under the central government) should organize relevant agencies to take measures to ensure completion of the tasks delivered by the central government and distribute the tasks to local government by signing responsibility contracts to achieve the objectives of the land conversion program.