Villagers now warming to sustainable forestry

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Like many women in Sancha, a village in the mountainous Huairou district where temperatures can reach as low as -12 C, 53-year-old Liu Xiuying is looking forward to an easier winter this year thanks to a grant that helped improve the energy efficiency of her rural suburban home in Beijing.

Lanscape of Huairou, Beijing. [File photo]

Lanscape of Huairou, Beijing. [File photo] 

Liu used to cut down trees every day to keep warm during the colder months, but after receiving 1,000 yuan ($160) from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and United Nations Development Programme, her family has installed an energy-saving heating system that has reduced their annual demand for firewood from 1,250 kilograms to just 250 kg.

"Now gathering branches in the neighboring groves is sufficient for our needs," Liu said. "We no longer cut down trees."

Homes in this part of Beijing are traditionally fitted with kang, hollow brick beds heated by wood fires. Using the grants, residents were able to install updated models fitted with pipes that spread the hot air around the home.

Wang Xiaoping, director of the Beijing Forestry Society, an NGO founded in 1955 aimed at environmental protection, said the project will save about 5 hectares of forest in Sancha every year.

"The only disadvantage is that village women can't have as many conversations as before," added Liu, with a smile. "We used to talk all the way to the mountains."

The program also offers villagers lectures on forest management and distributes materials to promote sustainable forest exploitation and improve their awareness of environmental protection.

A team of 45 villagers has already been formed to protect the nearby forest. Official data show the improved environment is already attracting more tourists, with about 16,000 people visiting the area last year.

"We've noticed that cutting down trees to sell is short-sighted," said Wei Zongjiang, one of Sancha's forest rangers. "We can benefit more from selling the beautiful views of our mountain scenery."

Sancha is one of 22 communities that have received financial help from GEF's small grants program. Established in 1991, GEF is an independent financial organization that is the largest funder of projects to improve the global environment. The organization supported projects in 14 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities in China last year, providing donations totaling $1.05 million.

Liu Yi, national coordinator for the GEF Small Grants Programme in China, said unsustainable deforestation in the area has now been controlled, and the forest-based carbon sequestration has been enhanced effectively.

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