China will spend 60 billion yuan (8.77 billion U.S. dollars) annually on its greening, or tree-planting, campaigns in an effort to have 20 percent of the country's land covered by forests by 2010, an official said on Wednesday.
Jia Zhibang, head of the State Forestry Administration, said 16.66 million hectares of trees must be planted in the next two years in order to increase the forest coverage rate to 20 percent, from 18.21 percent at present.
"But currently we are facing tremendous difficulties to meet this goal because of successive natural disasters last year," Jia told Xinhua in a written interview.
A rare snow disaster and sleet in the south about one year ago and a catastrophic earthquake in southwest China's Sichuan Province in May had not only caused huge casualties, but also damaged many forests, he said.
The forest coverage rate dropped by 0.29 percentage points after the disasters, he said on the eve of the country's 31st Tree-planting Day.
Despite this, people across China managed to create 4.77 million hectares of forests in 2008, a rise of 22.1 percent compared with that of 2007, according to statistics released by the National Greening Committee on Wednesday.
Output of the country's forestry sector reached 1.33 trillion yuan, up 6.08 percent year-on-year. Forestry import and export volume was nearly 70 billion U.S. dollars in 2008.
A total of 540 million people joined forestation efforts in the past year, planting 2.31 billion trees in mountains, city parks, on campuses and along highways and railways.
China is the third largest country in the world in terms of area, with 9.6 million square kilometers of land territory behind Russia and Canada.
The country's top legislative body, the National People's Congress (NPC), passed a resolution in 1981 to make it the duty of all citizens above the age of 11 to plant trees annually. Tree-planting activities are usually carried out in March and April, the spring time for most part of the country.
This was described by former U.S. Vice President and Nobel Prize winner Al Gore as "the largest tree-planting program the world has ever seen," during international climate talks in Polandin December.
China stopped cutting down natural forests ten years ago, which has helped to preserve 95.33 million hectares of forests, said the greening committee.
Also on Wednesday, the Ministry of Education said every student will be asked to plant at least one tree before graduation.
The "green education" program aims to enhance the consciousness of environment protection among Chinese youngsters, said a notice issued by the ministry.
Schools should arrange enough time for students to attend the program, it said.