China’s ‘Grain-to-Green’ plan fundamental to managing water and soil erosion

Posted on March, 21 2003

A new report shows that China's Grain-for-Green forest restoration programme is a fundamental way of managing water and soil erosion and eradicating flood disasters in the Yangtze and Yellow river areas.
Beijing, China - WWF and China’s State Forest Administration recently produced a report offering detailed information on China’s ‘Grain-to-Green’ plan — a key government forest restoration programme that aims to replant forest or grassland on agricultural lands with a slope of over 25 degrees.

The report, Case Studies of China’s Grain-for-green Policy contains case studies conducted in Shaanxi and Sichuan provinces that detail first-hand information about the policy’s implementation. It shows that the Grain-for-Green approach is a fundamental way of managing water and soil erosion in the long run and eradicating flood disasters in the Yangtze and Yellow River areas.

In the short run, the report found that the approach is the most practical method of readjusting agricultural models and to stimulate agricultural production.

China’s policy to convert steep cultivated land to forests and grassland began implementation in March 2000. The plan involved more than 13 million hectares of farmlands, 6 million hectares of which are steep farmlands with a slope of over 25 degrees. The need for substantial amounts of funding and grain makes this one of the largest conservation projects in history.

The implementation of the plan ends China’s practice of cultivation on steep slopes, which has a history of several thousand years. Many years’ of deforestation in China is a primary cause of the degradation of the middle reaches of the Yellow River, which suffers China’s worst water and soil erosion. Excessive logging of natural forests for farmland on hillsides of the upper reaches of the Yangtze River is responsible for decreased forest land, reduced water reserve capacity, increased water and soil erosion, increased siltation, and constant floods.

Present records show the annual land loss in the Yangtze and Yellow river areas to be as high as 4 billion tons. This is because of deforestation and cultivation of hillside agricultural lands, which contributes to two-thirds of the annual sand flow into the Yangtze and Yellow rivers. The devastating floods of 1998 in the Yangtze and Yellow rivers areas demonstrated the urgency of halting deforestation and expansion of agricultural land.

After a two-year study on the Grain-to-Green policy, and based on thorough and in-depth research on the execution processes and its influences, a series of proposals were brought forward on policies and management techniques. In the meantime, research probes on the application of 3S techniques (i.e., remote sensing techniques, geographic information system, and global positioning system) to real-time Grain-to-Green management were also conducted, and an information system for Grain-for-Green programming and management was set up.

Research for the report was supported by WWF and publication of the report was supported by FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office Environment Project Fund). The report was published by China’s Science Press.

For further information:
Li Chao, Communications Director
WWF China
Tel: +86 10 8563 6538 ext 225
Deforestation of hillsides, such as these on the Yangtze River, has caused major water and soil erosion problems.
© WWF / Michel Gunther