Farmers' interests should not be ignored while the country presses ahead with plans to turn farmland into forests and pastureland in western regions, according to government officials.
In order to control soil erosion and desertification, cultivated farmland is being turned into woodland or pastureland.
But while this is taking place, local governments should "fully respect the will of the farmers," yesterday's major Chinese newspapers quoted Zeng Peiyan as saying.
Zeng, minister of the State Development Planning Commission, had earlier said that this year's trial projects to turn cultivated land back into forests and grassland would cover 333,333 hectares.
By the end of June, 244,600 hectares of terraced land had been converted, according to statistics from the Western Development Leading Group Office under the State Council.
Clearing forests and pastureland for farming and cultivating land on steep slopes have been held responsible for the deteriorating environment in the country's western regions, which have 70 percent of China's arable land, experts said.
To help turn this land back to its natural state, the central government is giving grain, cash and saplings as compensation to farmers who cut back on the amount of land they work, according to Yu Hejun, an official with the office.
Farmland that should no longer be used for crop-growing includes low-yield fields on steep slopes, which are vulnerable to desertification, according to Yu.
But it is up to farmers to decide which patches of land should be given up to forests and grassland, Yu added.
And if they are unwilling to turn over land that is high-yield and not susceptible to erosion, nobody should force them, he said.
"Farmers in western regions who have severely suffered from erosion and desertification have responded positively to the land-returning efforts," Yu said.
The state has decided to offer 2,250-kg grain annually in compensation to farmers for every one hectare of reclaimed farmland along the upper reaches of the Yangtze River. It is also offering 1,500-kg grain for every one hectare of returned land along the upper and middle reaches of the Yellow River, according to Yu.
The total yearly cash and other subsidies for farmers amounts to 1,050 yuan (US$126.5) for every hectare.
Grain compensation and cash subsidies will last as long as they are needed by farmers, according to Yu.
"The interests of the farmers should not be damaged," Zeng said.
Farmers who return farmland for sustainable forests will get five years of subsidies and those planting forests solely for environmental protection will get economic aid for eight years.
When this period ends, further subsidies and compensation will depend on farmers' incomes, according to Yu.
(China Daily 09/27/2000))