China: Afforestation Project in Shandong Improves Environment and Farmers’ Incomes

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Challenge

Shandong is a coastal province in the East China region. In 2009, it had a low forest cover of only 13.4 percent, ranking as the 22nd among 31 Chinese provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions, with total forest area of 2.54 million hectares. The province suffered from frequent droughts and floods, as well as serious soil erosion and desertification. This not only affected land productivity and people’s living conditions, but also continued to degrade the natural resource base in large areas of Shandong.

In the 1990s, Shandong’s forestry sector focused on the expansion of industrial plantations to increase timber production. Monoculture—the practice of growing a single tree species—was widespread. Among the consequences were the increase in pest incidences, falling productivity, and lost biodiversity.

The degraded mountains and coastal areas produced little ecological, environment and economic benefits. However, afforesting (establishing a forest in an area where there was no previous tree cover) these areas is very challenging. The mountain slopes are steep, infertile, eroded and drought-prone. The coastal sites are wind-swept and highly saline, have a high water table, and experience high levels of evapotranspiration. Very few tree and shrub species can survive in such environments.

Approach

The Shandong Ecological Afforestation Project aimed to support the provincial target to develop around 786,000 hectares of ecological afforestation in the period of the 12th Five-year Plan (2010-2015), and a longer-term goal to increase the province’s forest cover to 23 percent by 2020.

The project focused on the revegetation of degraded mountainous areas and the establishment of a protected forest system in saline coastal areas to use forests to help control erosion, conserve biodiversity and sequester carbon, and to develop a stable forest system resilient to the impacts of climate change.

The project developed and demonstrated effective afforestation models for environmentally degraded areas, and in doing so, promoted the shift from monoculture plantations toward mixed, multistory planting for ecological restoration. Non-commercial species were planted on upper slopes, while commercial tree crops were included on lower slopes to generate incomes for the local farm communities.

The project adopted a “demonstrating by doing” approach to help convince farmers and government decision makers that ecological afforestation was a viable way of restoring ecological balance in degraded areas. Training, technical back-up, research and extension were considered critical to building farmers’ capacity in afforestation, particularly in adopting new technology, and strengthening their interest in the project.

Results

Implemented in 28 counties in Shandong Province between 2010 and 2016, the project helped:

  • Plant trees and shrubs on 36,897 hectares of highly degraded hillsides, which increased vegetation cover from 16 percent to about 90 percent, reduced soil erosion by 68 percent, improved water retention by 30 percent, and enriched biodiversity by 40 percent.
  • Plant trees and shrubs on 30,018 hectares of saline coastal areas, which increased vegetation cover from 7 percent to more than 66 percent, and reduced soil salinity by 68 percent.
  • Plant mixed-species trees and shrubs along 2,150 km of canals and roads to provide protection from wind erosion.
  • Develop and extend 13 afforestation models, 12 new technological packages, and 25 technical standards and regulations,
  • Increase the number of species in nurseries from 15 to 50.
  • Establish 380 model forests in nine counties.
  • Generate incomes for 26,556 farm households through commercial tree crops such as fruits, nuts and tea, and business activities in saline areas such as mushroom growing and poultry raising, and create additional employment in tree planting and tending for the local communities.
  • Provide training to all the farmers and project staff involved in the project, enhancing their technical capacity in planting and forest management.
  • Contribute to the sequestration of the equivalent of about 12 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) over the project’s 30-year lifetime, and generate useful data on cost-benefit analysis on the carbon sequestration potential in project areas. This improved Shandong’s readiness to enter the emerging carbon trading market in China.

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