China will maintain its drive to return reclaimed farmland to forest in its western regions, but will proceed with caution to ensure sustainable development and a better life for farmers.
Li Zibin, vice-minister of the National Development and Reform Commission, said Thursday in Beijing that the policy was not to blame for the country’s declining grain harvest. Although the land reforested previously provided 6.5 million tons of grain, production efficiencies have enabled remaining farmland to increase output by 5 million tons. This has resulted in a net reduction of only 1.5 million tons, Li said.
China’s total grain production plummeted from 512.3 million tons in 1998 to 430.7 million tons last year, according to the Information Center of the Ministry of Agriculture.
This was caused partly by loss of arable land to urbanization and industrial expansion and partly by the trend to use more farmland for cash crops, said Li. Coastal provinces like Jiangsu and Guangdong, which were not obligated to return land to forest, saw grain outputs drop by nearly 30 million tons in 2003 from 1998 levels.
Land that has been reforested in the west includes low yield fields on steep slopes or those vulnerable to water and soil erosion. The aim has been to protect the environment, and by the end of 2004 China will have reconverted over 7.8 million hectares of farmland to woods and planted trees on 11.3 million hectares of other land.
The country’s policy of returning reclaimed farmland to forest will continue in the years ahead, but the emphasis will shift to increasing the sustainability of farmers’ ways of life.
In addition to helping farmers improve production on remaining farmland, local governments in the west have moved nearly 800,000 farmers from ecologically harsh areas to places where life is more feasible, Li said.
He also said he is optimistic that foreign direct investment will grow rapidly in China’s western regions, which boast abundant resources and huge market potential.
Western China currently attracts only 4 percent of the total foreign investment flowing into China, but that figure is on the rise, according to Li.
(China Daily October 15, 2004)