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|Thursday, August 16, 2001, updated at 09:48(GMT+8)|
China to Inject 100 Billion Yuan into Forestry ProjectChina plans to inject more than 100 billion yuan (some 12 billion US dollars) into a 10-year project to transform millions of hectares of erosion-hit farmland into forest and grassland.
It will be the biggest ecological project ever carried out in China, from which over 300 million people of 80 million rural households are expected to benefit, said an official with the State Forestry Administration (SFA).
Although declining to give details of the 2001-2010 project, Zhang Hongwen, director of the SFA's Office for Conversion of Slope Farmland into Forest and Grassland, said the project investment will surpass 108.2 billion yuan, the total cost of another SFA program to bring natural forest under protection.
A policy measure issued two years ago encouraged Chinese farmers who own low-yield slope farmland to plant trees or grass on it. Governments at all levels are responsible for compensation by giving farmers grain and cash.
The compensation is based on 150 kilograms of grain and 70 yuan (about 8.5 US dollars) each year for every mu (one hectare equals 15 mu) of farmland-turned forest. Farmers can get the compensation for eight years.
The grain-for-environment decision was made because "the people have long cultivated the land recklessly, causing a vicious circle of soil erosion and poverty," Zhang told Xinhua.
Farmers on the upper and middle reaches of the Yangtze and the Yellow rivers, the two biggest rivers in China, have a tradition of growing grain on slopes, the major landform in river valleys.
However, soil erosion has become rampant due to the poor ability of slope land to retain water.
More than two billion tons of soil is washed into the Yangtze and the Yellow rivers annually, making the region one of areas most vulnerable to soil erosion in the world.
"Two thirds of eroded soil come from the slope farmland," Zhang said. "Sooner or later, we have to adopt the policy of turning all slope land into forest and grassland."
Trial work of the project, likely to be officially kicked off this year, has been conducted since 1999 in 224 counties in western provinces such as Sichuan, Gansu and Shaanxi.
More than one million hectares of slope farmland have been transformed, and an additional 730,000 hectares of barren land have become vegetated, according to the SFA.
Grain and cash promised by governments in 1999 have been paid in full to farmers, and about 70 percent of the task for the year 2000 has been fulfilled, Zhang said.
The official acknowledged that both local governments and farmers need to have a better understanding of the project as it is launched in more areas.
"We have to realize that it is for our environment and our future," he said.
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