Attach Importance to Reform and Development of the Forestry Industry

From: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2011-09-19 23:12
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    I. Reform of the forestry industry

    The Chinese forestry industry is now going through an unprecedented reform of the system of collective forest rights. This reform, which depends on the creativity of ordinary rural residents and the experience of local government organs is very similar to the household contract system for farmland operations, will have major, far-reaching historical significance. Over the last two years I personally made an inspection tour of Jiangxi and Liaoning provinces to see the reform of collective forest rights being carried out spontaneously by local cadres and farmers. They summed up the reform as “defining the rights to the mountains, protecting the roots of the trees and putting the minds of the people at ease.” This reform has greatly stimulated the enthusiasm for production among rural residents in forested areas. The scarcity of arable land and abundance of forests in the country is a fundamental fact. China has 4.3 billion mu (15 mu to a hectare) of forested land, 2.5 billion mu of which is collectively-owned, which is greater than the total area of arable land. There is a great deal of potential development in this 4.3 billion mu of forested land. For this reason, we need to attach great importance to the reform and development of the forestry industry.

    The reform of the system of collective forest rights represents a major shift in rural production relations and another major step in liberating the productive forces in the countryside. This reform will not only boost development of the forestry industry and help to raise rural incomes, but will also help improve the ecological environment. I believe the great significance of this reform has not been fully manifested and, in fact, it has just begun and will continue to unfold. Before making this inspection tour of Jiangxi, I still wasn’t sure about how to resolve certain problems associated with this reform, but after making on-site inspections I found the answers. The problems were resolved through the wisdom of the local people and cadres as they established and improved the system. For example, the local people knew there were some valuable trees in the collective forestland that needed to be protected, so they attached metal labels on such trees to identify the type of tree and specify that they were not to be cut down. In the past, annual fire prevention efforts depended on the mobilization efforts of cadres, but the local people have decided this is no longer necessary because they have taken responsibility for fire prevention. As it was said in ancient China, “People with property have a sense of responsibility.” They are now doing it on their own initiative rather than at the behest of others so that the people who work the forests are also responsible for their care. Giving the local residents long-term, stable contracts that guarantee their right to work the forestland ensures that they will work and care for the forestland just as they would their own property. This gives them hope that they can prosper so they are very eager to participate in the program. Ownership of the forestland remains in the hands of the collective, but the right to work the forests is in the hands of the local residents, and this is a long-term right. In light of the particular characteristics of forestry work, the forestry contracts have a term of 70 years, which is longer than the term for the household farmland contracts. As I said before, the term for the household farmland contracts is 30 years, which means the contract holders can depend on the contracts for a long time. The 70-year term of the forestry contracts ensures that conditions will not change for an even longer period. This is the only way we can truly “put people’s minds at ease”.

    In 1998 Hongtian Village in the city of Yong’an, Fujian Province became the first locality in the province to begin carrying out reform of the system of collective forest rights. The 9,019 mu of commercial forests in the mountainous areas was divided equally among the local families with the use rights, possession of the timber, operating rights, disposal rights and profit rights all given back to the famers while retaining the forests under collective ownership in the public sector. This marked the beginning of a new path of economic development for the forestry industry. / Photo supplied by the China Office

    The reform of the system of collective forest rights is very important. It will play a tremendous role in national economic development, and will be particularly important in developing agriculture, in helping rural residents improve their standards of living and prosper, in improving the ecological environment and in addressing climate change. We must resolutely and unwaveringly carry out the Opinions on Promoting Reform of the System of Collective Forest Rights in an All Round Way issued by the CPC Central Committee and the State Council. This document specifies that the reform should take about 5 years to basically complete the tasks of the reform by clearly defining the ownership of collective forestland and concluding contracts with individual households for forestry operations. The rural residents are anxious to get started, but we must be resolute and careful in carrying out this work to ensure it is done properly. 

    First, we need to clearly define ownership to ensure equal access to rights in contracting to work the collective forestland. We must put the minds of local residents at ease by assuring them that the contracted rights to work the forests they hold are long-term, stable and guaranteed and will not be changed. 

    Second, we must allow flexibility in working the forestland to ensure that local residents truly benefit by ensuring that such operations protect the ecological environment and promote the greening of the country as well as help local residents increase their productivity and incomes. What the local residents grow and how they grow should be decided by themselves. The government can set requirements and guidelines, but the right of local residents to operate independently must be ensured. By ensuring flexibility in forestry operations, the local residents should be able to make great strides in developing the forestry industry in these 2.5 billion mu of collectively-owned forestland. Of this I am extremely confident. 

    Third, we need to strengthen support to provide local residents with an excellent government policy environment. Once the contracts to work the forests have been concluded, the government must definitely provide policy support rather than simply sitting back and doing nothing. At present, the most important elements of this support are financing, insurance and budgetary allocations. In other words, we need to help local residents in doing a good job of planting forests. These are not temporary measures and must be institutionalized. 

    Fourth, we must provide good service. We need to ensure the availability of convenient and efficient technical and information services and services to allow the transfer of contract rights. Once the reform of the system of collective forest rights has been carried out, the system of services must be quickly brought up to speed. The most urgently needed is scientific and technical services, from supply and protection of seedlings to prevention and control of damage from insects and diseases. Fire protection for forests is also required since fire represents the greatest threat to forested areas. At some point in the development of the contract system, the need will arise for guidance and service in transferring contract rights as the contracted operation grows to reach a good economy of scale. The most important of these four factors is the stability and appropriateness of government policy to ensure that local residents who contract to work collective forests feel secure, at ease and comfortable.

    The key policy adopted by the Chinese government to address the international financial crisis is the expansion of domestic demand. In particular, we are working to balance urban and rural development and increase consumer spending in rural areas. Success in the reform of the system of collective forest rights should result in an increase in local purchasing power due to higher local incomes from the expansion of forestry industry and forestry-related industries. This makes the reform an important measure for addressing the international financial crisis. Most of the forested areas of China are in mountainous and hilly regions, many of which are also poverty stricken localities. In addition to increasing rural incomes through the development of agriculture, the reform of the system of collective forest rights should also help local residents increase their incomes through various forest-related operations so that they can shake off poverty fairly quickly, making this an important measure for poverty alleviation as well.

    In summary, the reform of the system of collective forest rights is a systematic project that should properly balance economic benefits, social benefits and ecological benefits with the ultimate goal of expanding resources, invigorating rural economy, promoting increase in rural incomes and improving the ecological environment. While carrying out the reform we must be good at summing up experience, carefully study new situations, resolve new issues and constantly improve policies and systems. In addition, we will look for ways to carry out reform of state-owned tree farms and the forest management system.

    II. Development of the forestry industry

    At the very start of this new century I organized over 200 scientists, including academicians from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Academy of Engineering to carry out a one-year study. The result was the Report on the Strategy for Sustainable Development of the Forestry Industry of China, which looked at the development of the forestry industry from a strategic perspective. In 2003, the Party Central Committee and the State Council issued the Decision to Accelerate Development of the Forestry Industry, which clearly defined guidelines, the basic policy, major tasks and policy measures for developing the forestry industry and pointed out that in doing so we should follow a path of sustainable development, mainly through efforts to improve the ecological environment. In this document, the Central Committee clearly defined the status of the forestry industry, pointing out the important position of the forestry industry in the strategy of sustainable development, the high priority of the forestry industry in efforts to improve the ecological environment and the fundamental position of the forestry industry in the large-scale development of the western region of the country. I have never forgotten these three points. I would like to add one more point to these three: the forestry industry holds a special position in addressing the issue of climate change. The Central Committee has never before given the forestry industry such a high priority. 

    So what kind of policy should we adopt in developing the forestry industry? First of all, we need to mobilize the entire country, get everyone involved and encourage all sectors of society to participate in the effort so that the forestry industry contributes even more to national economic and social development. We need to mount a long-term effort to plant more trees and green the motherland. Second, we must devote a great deal of effort to carrying out key forestry projects. The Chinese forestry industry has made great strides in the 60 years since the founding of New China. The area covered by forests has greatly increased and the success of many major forestry projects, such as the northwest-north-northeast China networks of shelterbelts, the protective forest belts on the upper and middle reaches of the Yangtze River, efforts to prevent and control the desertification, and efforts to control the spread of sandy and rocky deserts, has attracted the attention of the world. We must unwaveringly continue to work on these major environmental improvement and forestry projects. We must also continue successful efforts to protect natural forests, consolidate the results of efforts to return farmland to its natural forested state and strengthen environmental protection efforts in key areas and key watersheds. Third, we need to strengthen efforts to comprehensively develop the infrastructure for the forestry industry and improve working and living conditions in forested areas. Fourth, we need to devote a great deal of effort to the development of the forestry industry and related industries and closely integrate efforts to improve forested areas with efforts to improve the lives of the people living in those areas. We need to develop not only the forestry and timber industry itself, but related industries and a variety of forestry operations as well, while correctly handling the relations between protection, utilization and development.

    The development tasks for the forestry industry are arduous, but this is a glorious mission. I am confident that under the leadership of the Party Central Committee and the State Council and with the thorough application of the Scientific Outlook on Development on the part of all the front line workers in the forestry industry, hard work on the part of all concerned parties and the unwavering efforts of generation after generation, the Chinese forestry industry will make even greater progress in development, the great mountains and rivers of our motherland will become even more beautiful and the lives of the people living in forest areas will be even better.

(From Qiushi in Chinese No.16 2009)

Note:Speech delivered by Wen Jiabao, Premier of the State Council, June 22, 2009 at a meeting with representatives of the Central Conference on Forestry Work

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