Three-north Shelterbelt Forest Program
Published: 2010-01-14

 Three-north shelterbelt forest program

The three-north shelterbelt forest program was initiated in 1978, and it has gone through 27 years of implementation. When the State Council approved to start the program, it also approved the State Forestry Administration to set up the northwest, north and northeast bureaus of shelterbelt forest development.


The first period of the three-north shelterbelt forest program

According to the program overall plan, the scope of the three-north shelterbelt forest program covers 551 county level administrative regions in 13 provinces (autonomous regions, municipalities directly under the central government) in the northwest, the north and the northeast, with a total area of 4.069 million km2, accounting for 42.4% of the total land area of China. The program was planned to start in 1978 and complete in 2050, a period of 73 years divided into 3 periods and 8 program phases. The program was aimed to increase the forest area in the program regions by 35.083 million ha, increase the forest coverage from 5.05% in 1977 to 14.95%, effectively control sand storms and soil erosion, basically improve ecological conditions and primarily improve the living conditions of farmers.


According to an assessment conducted by the China International Investment Program Consulting Company, up to the year of 2000, the first period completed an accumulative investment (excluding labor inputs) of RMB 7,266.9 million, of which RMB 1,630.84 million was from the central special fund (Table 2-8). A total accumulative area of 22.0372 million ha of afforestation was completed, of which 15.386 million ha was artificial plantings (Table 2-9). The net increase of total forest volume in the program regions was 235 million m3, accounting for 50% of the net increase of the national total of forest volume in the same period.


Table 2-8, Investments completed by the first period of the three-north shelterbelt forest program

Unit: 104 RMB


Total investment

By government

Special financial investment by the central government


Infrastructure investment

Development fund

Special fund








































Table 2-9, Afforestation completed during the first period of the three-north shelterbelt forest program

Unit: 104 ha



Artificial planting

Aero seeding

Mountain closure


























Through the first period of program implementation, the mitigation of worsening ecological conditions was achieved, and the space for human living and development was expanded. A total of 4.76 million ha wind breaking and sand fixing forests were established, allowing 20% of the desertification land in the program regions under management. A total area of 0.37 million ha of grassland shelterbelt forests were established, protection and restoring more than 10 million ha of desertified, salinized and severely degraded pasturelands. The forest coverage in the two major deserts of Mu Us and Khorchin reached more than 15% and 20% respectively. A total area of 6.63 million ha forests for erosion control and water source conservation was established, bringing 40% of the eroding areas of the loess plateau under primary control. A total area of 2.13 million ha of farmland shelterbelt forests was established in 64% of the farmland, making 21.3 million ha of farmland under effective control.


Through the first period of program implementation, structural adjustment of rural industries and regional economic development were promoted, accelerating the poverty alleviation. The forest volume in the program regions increased from 720 million m3 in 1977 to nearly 1 billion m3, mitigating the conflict between timber supply and demand. A total of 0.91 million ha of firewood forest was established, solving the problem of firewood for more 6 million households. More than 5 million ha of shrub forests for fodder were established, providing fodder resources for livestock farming. A total of 3.69 million ha of economic forests were established, with an annual production of 12.55 million tons of nuts and fresh fruits, accounting for 1/5 of the national total production, and an output value of RMB 17 billion. The development of economic forest and related industries has become the key backbone of local economy and the effective approach to poverty alleviation of farmers.


The achievements of the first period of the three-north shelterbelt forest program embodied the attention and care of the central government and the hard working and sweat of the masses of various ethnic groups in the three-north region, and producing significant impacts in the world. Since 1987, the Bureau of Three-north Shelterbelt Forest Development, Hetian Prefecture of Xinjiang and other more than 10 institutions were awarded the “world’s top 500 best” by the UNEP. The three-north shelterbelt forest program was one of the 3 programs that participated in the world expo in Hannover of Germany in 2000. On 28 December 2003, the program obtained a Guinness certificate for the world’s “largest afforestation program”. Practices of the program proved that as long as we follow the rules of nature and adhere to a scientific attitude, the poor conditions of the mountains and rivers can be changed and the great goal of building beautiful landscapes is certainly achievable.


Phase 4 of the three-north shelterbelt forest

On 26 November 2001, the phase 4 of the three-north shelterbelt forest program was formally incepted in the Grand Hall of the People’s Congress. During the program planning, 86 program counties were separate from the tree-north shelterbelt forest program and included in the sandstorm source control program in Beijing-Tianjin region, and 98 counties of the 3 northeast provinces which had no natural forest protection tasks were included in the phase 4 three-north shelterbelt forest program. In addition, some local administrative regions were adjusted. The phase 4 three-north shelterbelt forest program was correspondingly adjusted to include 596 county level administrative regions (4 counties were added at a later time) of 13 provinces (autonomous regions, municipalities) in the three-north region, covering a total area of 4.0539 million ha which accounts for 42.2% of the total land area of China. It was planned that in addition to effective protection of the existing forest resources of 27.87 million ha, a total of 9.5 million ha afforestation will be completed to establish a number of complete regional shelterbelt forest system, making the worsening ecological conditions in the three-north region under primary control and laying a firm foundation for building beautiful landscapes in the three-north region (Table 2-10). Up to the end of 2004, the program has completed afforestation of 3.05 million ha, and managed desertification land of an accumulative total of 1.33 million ha (Table 2-11). In some key program areas, rapid increase of forest resources and continual improvement of ecological conditions played an active role in promoting regional economic development and solving the problems of “farmer, agriculture and rural area”.


Table 2-10, Tasks of the phase 4 three-north shelterbelt forest program

       Unit area: ha

Statistic unit


Artificial planting

Mountain closure

Aero seeding























Table 2-11, Progress of the phase 4 three-north shelterbelt forest program




























Service Guidelines   |   Sitemap  |   Hotlinks  |   Contact us