In order to speed up ecological development, China has implemented major forestry ecological programs aimed to improve ecological environment and expand forest resources. In 1989, 1990, 1987, 1994 and 1996, the government respectively initiated the program of shelterbelt forest in the middle and upper reaches of Yangtze River, coastal shelterbelt forest, afforestation in plain regions, afforestation in Taihang Mountains, and Shelterbelt forest in Pearl River basin. Up to the end of 2000, the phase 1 program completed. According to the “outlines of the 10th national economic and social development plan”, in 2000, the State Forestry Administration formulated 5 shelterbelt forest projects, i.e. “the plan of phase 2 Yangtze River shelterbelt forest program”, “the plan of phase 2 Pearl River shelterbelt forest program”, “the plan of phase 2 coastal shelterbelt forest program”, “the plan of phase 2 Taihang Mountains afforestation program” and “the plan of phase 2 plain regions afforestation program”. In 2002, all the program plans smoothly passed the assessment made by the China International Program Consulting Company entrusted by the State Planning Commission. On 29 September 2004, the State Forestry Administration formally issued the phase 2 program plans of the 5 projects. 

Program plan

1) The scope of the phase 2 shelterbelt forest program in Yangtze River basin and other regions. The shelterbelt forest program in Yangtze River basin and other regions involved more than 1,900 counties (municipalities, districts) of 31 provinces (autonomous regions, municipalities under central government), basically covering China’s major ecologically fragile regions subjected to soil erosion, sandstorm and salinity. Of the 5 projects, the phase 2 Yangtze River shelterbelt forest program involved 1,035 counties (municipalities, districts) of 17 provinces (autonomous regions, municipalities under central government), the phase 2 Pearl River shelterbelt forest program involved 187 counties (municipalities, districts) of 6 provinces (autonomous regions), the phase 2 coastal shelterbelt forest program involved 221 counties (municipalities, districts) of 11 provinces (autonomous regions, municipalities under central government), the phase 2 Taihang Mountains afforestation program involved 77 counties (municipalities, districts) of 4 provinces (municipalities directly under the central government), the phase 2 plain regions afforestation program involved 944 counties (municipalities, districts) of 26 provinces (autonomous regions, municipalities under central government).  

2) Main program tasks. The program were planned for 10 years (2001-2010), with a total tasks of 16.77 million ha of afforestation, including 10.151 million ha of artificial plantings, 5.973 million ha of mountain closure and 0.644 million ha of aero seeding. The program also planned to improve 9.448 million ha of poor quality shelterbelt forests .  

Program progresses and achievements

1) Program progresses

i) Basic information on phase 1 program. The planned task of the phase 1 shelterbelt forest program in Yangtze River basin and other regions was 14.704 million ha afforestation (excluding afforestation in plain regions), with a total investment of RMB 10.94 billion (excluding afforestation in plain regions). By the end of 2000, the program have completed a total of 13.7166 million ha of afforestation, with an accumulative investment of RMB 5.608 billion (excluding afforestation in plain regions), accounting for 93.3% and 51.3% respectively of the total planned tasks of the phase 1 program. The phase 1 Yangtze River shelterbelt forest program completed an accumulative area of 6.855 million ha of afforestation, including 4.225 million ha of artificial plantings, 75,000 ha of aero seeding and 2.21 million ha of mountain closure, and tending of 0.345 million ha of young forests. The phase 1 Pearl River shelterbelt forest program first started in 13 counties in 1996, with enforcement of a proactive fiscal policy in 1998, investment to the program was increased by adding 34 counties in the program. Up to 2000, the phase 1 program completed 0.6728 million ha of afforestation including 0.2345 million ha of artificial plantings, 27,600 ha of aero seeding and 0.2819 million ha of mountain closure, and also completed 0.1288 million ha of improvement of poor quality shelterbelt forests, 170 million four side tree plantings. The phase 1 coastal shelterbelt forest program completed a total of 3.2368 million ha of afforestation, including 2.4644 million artificial plantings, 0.7198 million ha of mountain closure and 52,600 ha of aero seeding. By the phase 1 program, of the total length of 18,340 km coastal line in China, 17,000 km of them were planted with trees forming the backbone of the coastal shelterbelt forest. The phase 1 Taihang Mountains afforestation program completed a total of 2.952 million ha of afforestation, including 1.6457 million ha of artificial plantings, 0.3063 million ha of aero seeding and 1 million ha of mountain closure, and an additional of 170 million four-side tree plantings. The phase 1 plain region afforestation program, up to the end of 2000, made 869 counties of the 920 plain, half-plain and partial plain counties (municipalities, flags, districts) across the country reach the ministerial standards “standards for afforestation in plain county”, accounting for 94.5% of the planned number of counties. The program completed a total area of 6.98 million ha of afforestation, including 3.768 million ha of farmland shelterbelt forests which protect 32.56 million ha of farmland. The proportion of sheltered farmland increased from 59.6% in 1987 to present 70.7%, an increase of 11%. More than 85% of roads, canals and riverbanks were planted with trees. Currently, the total area of forested land in plains reached 15.18 million ha with a standing volume of 620 million m3.  

ii) Progress of the phase 2 program. According to the overall arrangement by the State Forestry Administration for the 6 major forestry programs, the government increased the investment in the shelterbelt forest program in Yangtze River basin and other regions, leading to a good development trend of shelterbelt forest program. Starting from 2000, the shelterbelt forest program in Yangtze River basin and other regions were in full implementation, up to the end of 2004, a total investment of RMB 7.26 billion was completed, including RMB 2.062 billion from the central government, RMB 2.584 billion from local government and RMB 2.614 billion from the farmers in form of labor. The program completed a total area of 2.8991 million ha of afforestation including 1.1458 million ha of artificial plantings, 0.1433 million ha of aero seeding and 1.61 million ha of mountain closure, and also 0.1885 million ha of improvement of poor quality shelterbelt forests (Table 2-14). The program has made interim achievements, forest resources were further increased in the program regions, quality of the forest was significantly improved, ecological environment was continually improved and significant economic, social and ecological benefits were obtained, firmly facilitated the economic and social development in the program regions.    

2) Main achievements

i) Soil erosion was reduced and long-term functioning of large water resource facilities was enhanced. Through many years of implementation of the shelterbelt forest program in Yangtze River basin and other regions, forest resources in the upper reaches of large rivers such as Yangtze River and Pearl River were significantly increased, the total amount of soil erosion declined year by year, and the functions of forest to hold soils and conserve water gradually enhanced. According to “the national soil erosion monitoring bulletin”, the quantity of soil erosion in Yangtze River basin and Huai River basin was reduced by about 50%. The area of soil erosion in the Three-Gorge reservoir region was reduced from 38,800 ha in the 1980s to 29,600 ha in 2000, the intensity of soil erosion was significantly decreased and ecological conditions were evidently improved. The worsening situation of soil erosion in many counties (municipalities) has been under primary control. The speed of desertification and strong desertification in some provinces (autonomous regions, municipalities directly under the central government) started to decline, many riverbeds were evidently lowered due to washing away of the sediments, many dried streams started to flow clear water again, leading to reduction of sedimentation in the reservoir which keeps the normal functioning of the water resource facilities, beautiful landscapes started to appear in some local areas.  

ii) Capacity of withstanding natural disasters was enhanced, and stabilization and improvement of agricultural production were promoted. The shelterbelt forest program in Yangtze River basin and other regions followed the principles of unified planning, clear focus, matching local conditions and prevention according to damages. The program established shelterbelt forests with different functions in response to different natural conditions, social conditions and types of natural disasters, preliminarily forming ecological shelters with regional characteristics, enhancing the capacity of withstanding natural disasters such as typhoon, drought, flood and sandstorm, and effectively guaranteeing industrial and agriculture production and sustainable economic and social development. Onsite observations indicated that the improved growing conditions for crops in the farmland with established shelterbelt forests resulted in an increase of food production by 10-20%. According to a survey on 160 counties in the program regions of the shelterbelt forest program in the middle and upper reaches of Yangtze River, food production was increased from 17.49 million tons before program implementation to 26.67 million tons, an increase by 52.5%. Among the many contributing factors, the provision of shelters by forests was one of the important causes.  

iii) Structural adjustment of rural industries was facilitated, and poverty alleviation of farmers was accelerated. Adhering to the principle of prioritizing ecological protection, the shelterbelt forest program in Yangtze River basin and other regions combined the program implantation with vitalization of rural economy and promotion of poverty alleviation and income generation of farmers, established a number of production bases of timber forests, economic forests and firewood forests, making significant increase of standing volume in the program regions and preliminary mitigation of conflict between timber supply and demand. The increased forest resources not only promoted the development of cropping and livestock industries, but also facilitated the development of timber processing, forest food, forest tourism and other related industries, enhancing the adjustment of rural and agricultural economic structure and pushing forward rural economic development which further incubating the local financial sources and increasing the income of farmers. For example, by strengthening development of forestry industries, the average per capita pure income reached 3,425 RMB in Peicun Village of Jiyuan County in Henan Province in the program region of the Taihang Mountains afforestation program.  

iv) The shelterbelt forest program played an important role in guiding and demonstrating ecological development throughout China, and produced significant impacts in the world, drawing a good image of improving environmental conditions to benefit people for the Chinese government. The shelterbelt forest program in Yangtze River basin, coastal region, Taihang Mountains and other regions was one of the earliest forestry ecological programs. Many beneficial explorations and innovative work were made in design of program implementation, institutional structure, program management, models of treatment and other aspects, providing experiences and demonstrations for implementing large-scale ecological programs in China and producing significant impacts in the world. The program has become a landmark program to publicize in the world China’s intensification of ecological development and promotion of harmonized ecological and economic development, upgrading China’s international image.