Gambling with China’s forests

Guest author Ping Yongfeng

This May, Southern Weekend once more produced evidence on the massive deforestation project in Hubei, in which millions and millions of acres of forest will be burnt down. According to common understanding, our forests are mainly divided in state-owned forests and collective forests. In the first instance, the forests are controlled by and accessible to all the departments above the county level. In the latter case, their control is given to the village units and, in both cases, the forestry cadres and the village heads have in their hands an incredible corruption machine. The collective forest rights reform is mainly based on the "collective forest" use rights, with a long term contract, an "allocation" given to every villager together with the possibility to handle decisions themselves. The national forestry department will certainly set some standards to control villagers’ behaviour in order to avoid the emergence of undesired ecological dangers.

Some people called the collective forest rights’ reform "the third wheel land reform", which in reality considers the Huabei flatland cultivation as dealing with the forest industry. Other people think that the fundamental theory behind the forest rights’ reform is the 1978 "land responsabilty contract system". This kind of contract transferred management power to the peasants, hugely stimulating Chinese productivity. But if we look at this system 30 years later, the contract has been put into effect, but the set quota has never been achieved. In addition, Chinese peasants’ cultivation methods cause land pollution, harden the soil and create difficulties. Moreover, following industrialisation and urbanisation, Chinese peasants haven’t united but, on the contrary, have headed towards village decline and fragmentation.

Let’s look once again at the collective forest rights’ reform "experiment". Fujian ranks its forests among the national "models", and Nanping is also among the models of production experience in Fujian. But there, the natural forests have been replaced by planted forests, every affluent of the Min river regularly floods, year after year, and forests are becoming the reason for which state and businesses compete to achieve pure economic benefits. In addition, as an effect of being the object of such profit-driven competion, the important certificate of forest rights entailed in the reform has at present not been given to the peasants.

My suggestions to oppose this unrestrained gambling in the reform of collective forest rights are:

1) Forests, just like the air and the oceans, cannot simply be about ownership rights and partition matters, their ecological benefits exceed their economic profits. Therefore, in China’s already collapsing forests ecosystem, if and where natural forests are still present the reform should not be promoted, and all the efforts should be channeled into public forest protection.
2)Let’s look through the fraudolent nature of the "barren land suitable for planting forests". China doesn’t have any barren land suitable for planting forests – it is all "undeveloped barren land", and its ecosystems need protection.
3)There is no need for ecological protection and tree planting because all the territories with soil don’t need intervention, all of them can naturally recover. And because of this, all the movements that promote tree planting have to carry out environmental-impact evaluations. All the money to plant trees must be used to so some natural research; all the men who plant trees have to become natural research fellows.
4)If it is really necessary to carry out forest rights reform, we must bring in "community cooperation" in order to use the shares to give the peasants their allocation of forest ownership. At the same time, we must encourage the peasants to establish the "Association of Ecological Sustainability", which the locals have the ability to cleverly develop, and which will boost ecological protection.
5)The financial system gives peasants full trust and gives them the freedom to lend venture capital, because the best way to protect ecology is to believe in the abilities of the locals and believe in the strong, healthy and honest capabilites of the local community.

6)Encourage the social force to set up non-governmental natural preserves, and call the public to engage in long-term contracts with the ecosystem.