Planting Trees

Plantation-style Reforestation in China Gains Forest Cover but Loses on Environmental Benefits

Hua, Fangyuan 2018. Reaping greater environmental dividends from China’s reforestation programs. Current Conservation 12.1: 132-16.


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China has a long history of deforestation, linked to agriculture and production forestry. Chinese government became aware of the high deforestation rate, and since 1950, has promoted reforestation projects. In 1998, the country suffered massive flooding leading to the establishment of the world’s biggest and most extensively funded forest conservation and reforestation programs. These post-flood programs included the Natural Forest Protection Program(NFPP) and the Grain-for–Green Program (GFGP). Since 1999 to 2013, these programs have reforested 84 million hectares. Although the increase of forest cover could be seen as a successful outcome from the project, the new forest cover only includes a few tree species, instead favoring production-oriented plantations. Native forests are important beyond their contribution to biodiversity, they are more resilient to climate change and they bring back functions and ecosystem services that plantation cannot recover. The fact that reforestation projects end up increasing production-oriented plantations instead of native forest is a consequence of reforestation-planning oriented towards the increase of forest cover instead of the recovery of environmental benefits.

Overcoming this mismatch between forest cover and provision of environmental benefits requires reforestation plans to be grounded on knowledge about the extent of forest types, their capacity to provide ecological benefits, and the drivers of forest type choices. Acquiring this knowledge was the objective of Fangyuan Hua and her team. They developed a four-year study in Southwest China in which they combined satellite imagery analysis of land cover and fieldwork to identify forest type land cover change caused by GFGP and NFPP, including consequences for biodiversity, ecological functions, and ecosystem services. The outcomes of this study showed that the main contributor to forest cover increase was the transformation of croplands into plantation style reforestation which capacity to restore biodiversity was lower compared to native forest. Also, it was found that the drivers on forest type choice by households was based on local government encouragement to maximize profits from forestry production and neighbors’ behavior.



The PARTNERS Connection
This article is part of a special issue of Current Conservation magazine. Current Conservation is published by an informal alliance of organizations to promote interdisciplinary research in conservation and to foster communication among scientists, students, resource managers, educators and policy makers. The six articles in this issue were written by PARTNERS members and focus on different aspects of forest restoration in the tropics. Each article is illustrated with unique artwork, infographics and photographic images from contributors across the world.