China's land conversion program has its roots in the late 1960s, when farmers in the mountainous western provinces began clearing vast stretches of land to make way for more crops. The increased agricultural production helped feed a growing nation but also set the scene for disaster. When record monsoon rains pelted the region in 1998, soil from the agricultural fields washed down the mountain slopes, killing thousands of people in the villages below.
The unprecedented damage caused by the floods prompted China to reconsider the wisdom of replacing forests with farms especially in steeply sloping terrain. In 2000, the government launched a campaign to reforest the countryside and established several large-scale programs to help farmers in the western provinces find new work in surrounding cities.
In the PNAS study, Daily and colleagues from Stanford and Xi'an Jiaotong University evaluated the land conversion program one of the oldest and largest government projects associated with the reforestation push. The study is one of the first to assess whether this major government effort has reached its twin objectives of improving the environment and lifting people from poverty in rural mountain regions.
A passing grade
Ecologically speaking, China's Sloping Land Conversion Program has been a clear win since it was implemented a decade ago, said Daily, noting that the program has helped to decrease soil erosion by as much as 68 percent in some areas.
But economically, the benefits have been less pronounced, according to Jie Li of Xi'an Jiaotong's School of Public Policy and Administration in China. He is the lead author of the PNAS study that assessed the economic effects of the land conversion program by analyzing the response to survey questions posed to 929 villagers in the western provinces.
On average, families that participated in the pro
|Contact: Mark Shwartz|