Forestry practices in China

August 31, 2012

China is the third largest country in the World, just behind Russia and Canada. The population of China is over 1.2 billion people, making up about one-fifth of the world's population.

Michal Brink in China
Michal relaxes on the Great Wall of China.
Harvesting of plantation forestry in China
Harvesting of plantation forestry.
Bamboo forests in China Typical Chinese rural scene
Bamboo forests, providing one of the emerging markets for China's economy. Typical Chinese rural scene with populus plantations in the background.


China has a long history, going back thousands of years. For over three thousand years, China was ruled by Emperors and their dynasties. In the early 1200s, the Mongols from Mongolia occupied China, led by Genghis Khan. Kublai Khan, his grandson, established the Yuan dynasty, becoming the first foreign people to rule China. By the mid-1300s, the Yuan dynasty gave way to the Ming dynasty. Then in the mid-1600s, Manchurian troops overthrew the Ming dynasty to establish the Qing dynasty. In the early 1900s, the country came out from under dynasty rule to create the Peoples Republic of China. In the 1930s, China came under the control of a communist government.

For millions of years, the high peaks and deep valleys of China's forests have provided refuge during ice ages, and as a result, are the most biologically diverse temperate forests on earth. China's forests harbour over 2 800 tree species and multitudes of other plants, and are also home to numerous rare and threatened animals such as the giant panda, golden monkey, snow leopard, and crested ibis. Forested uplands protect China's lowland river valleys by storing rainfall and gradually releasing it so as to reduce the severity of droughts and floods, preventing erosion, and making the country's intensive irrigated agriculture system possible. Forests also provide 40% of the fuel for rural households. For these reasons, China has been called one of the most forest-dependent civilizations in the world.

Over the centuries, China's forests have been cleared by agricultural expansion and wars; by the time of the founding of the Peoples Republic of China in 1949, forest covered only 8.6% of the land area. Further deforestation occurred from the 1970s. However, today China has the world's largest artificial forest area of more than 53 million ha, accounting for 40% of the world's total. Plantation forest areas expand by about 2.8 million ha per year worldwide, with China accounting for 53.2%. Since the government first encouraged nationwide participation in tree-planting in 1981, volunteers have planted over 43 billion trees.

The government has undertaken these afforestation projects to prevent natural disasters and has established high yield plantations of conifer and pine. The aim is to increase forest cover to 26% by 2050. From 2011-2050, 13 million ha of new plantation forestry is planned by the government. In addition, large-scale afforestation is being undertaken in barren and arid areas of western China. These conservation efforts have been relatively successful to date, particularly the multi-species forests that have been developed around the upper reaches of major rivers, which have significantly reduced flooding and soil erosion. Commercial logging has also been banned in these, and other environmentally sensitive, areas. However, by contrast, many plantations are said to be inefficient and of poor quality.

The key challenge facing China's forests is the growing level of demand from the domestic market. The demand for fuel wood, industrial timber and paper are all growing significantly, while accessible forest resources are declining. This has led to a steady increase in Chinese imports of timber and pulp and paper products over the last decade. There are concerns that much of the timber has, to date, come from Russia and Indonesia and may have illegal or unsustainable origins.

China is also importing increasing amounts of timber from west and central Africa. Concerns have been raised about legality and governance issues of timber supplies from these areas and work has been undertaken by NGOs, in cooperation with the Chinese State Forestry Administration to raise awareness among Chinese companies operating in Africa.

China has made important moves to improve forest governance and combat illegal logging.

A number of new laws have been introduced on forest and wildlife protection, which include procedures and monitoring methods for forest governance and enforcement. Logging management measures are being strengthened with quota and logging transportation certificates, which tackle illegal logging and theft. Customs monitoring is also being developed to tackle timber smuggling. Certification is being actively promoted.

Bamboo, with a long tradition in China, is one of the emerging sectors in the Chinese economy. It is making an increasingly large contribution to farmers' income and playing an important role in rural industrial development.

Bamboo products are also being substituted for wood products, a process that has been accelerated by a variety of policy measures.

In 2008, the total forestry output rose to US$194 billion. The trade value (import and export) of forestry products exceeded US$ 70 billion.

Published in June 2012

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