China's grain-for-green plan in the western regions has reaped impressive results, with more than 3.22 million hectares of cultivated land converted into grassland or forest since 1999, a senior official revealed yesterday.
Li Zibin, vice-minister of the State Development Planning Commission said the large-scale environmental program had considerably improved western China's ecological environment.
But environmental protection is still the most urgent task for the development of the western regions, and this ought to be concern of the entire nation, he warned.
The central government has vowed to invest heavily in environmental protection and development in the vast western regions, following the Party's call to build China into an overall xiaokang or well-off society within two decades.
The government plans to invest more than 500 billion yuan (US$60.5 billion) in planting trees and restoring grasslands in its 12 western provinces, autonomous regions and municipality by 2010, said Li.
"Such great efforts to improve the ecology are rare in the world, and will consequently go down in history," pointed out Li, who is also vice-director of the Western Development Office of the State Council.
Li said the program's initial success was partially due to the grain and capital compensation paid by the central government for the loss of farmers' land.
Over the past years the State has been paying farmers 250 kilograms of food for one mu (0.067 hectares) of afforested cultivated area.
But Li said, as the grain-for-green program continues, more questions are being raised over the fate of many of the large-scale projects.
Some may doubt whether local governments will persistently pursue the central government's policy in the following decades, or whether farmers' rights to receive compensation may be jeopardized in the years to come.
"To ensure effective solutions to possible problems, administrative force alone will not be sufficient," said Li, adding that the interference of law, which has a greater binding force to ensure the long-term implementation of the policy, is needed.
Li said a new regulation passed by the State Council will take effect on January 20 this year to ensure the effective administration of the grain-for-green plan.
Li said the regulation makes clear relevant State policies and stipulates liabilities and duties of the relevant departments and individuals in the national ecological protection campaign.
(China Daily January 3, 2002)