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Forest Reform on Horizon

The government is set to launch a massive reform of forests owned by the State and village collectives. The forests are to be managed by individual farmers, contractors, and overseas investors.

Like the agriculture sector in the 1980s, the reform will separate management rights from ownership. Village collectives will continue to hold ownership rights but not management.

The reform plan, a State Forestry Administration (SFA) official told China Daily, has already been submitted to the national leadership for approval.

The reform of the country's forests, which occupy 280 million hectares and is three times the size of the farmlands, is seen as the biggest reform in China.

It follows the reform of farmlands in the early 1980s and of State-owned enterprises in the 1990s.

SFA declined to give a timetable, but Jia Zhibang, the SFA director, said previously the reform would be completed nationwide by 2010.

Regional governments are already working on the reform. Some of their pilot projects have been in existence for several years, according to the SFA official who talked to China Daily.

What they need, essentially, is a "symbolic endorsement" from the central government, he said.

Authorities in Shaanxi Province have already decided to allocate 70 percent of the province's forest resources to the management of individual farmers - some contracts running for 70 years.

Liu Xiongying, SFA's press officer, said the reform plan had drawn extensively from local pilot projects. "Our basic target is to diversify forest ownership."

The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) hopes the reform will boost agricultural productivity and forestry development, and in the process, benefit the country both environmentally and economically.

Du Ying, an agricultural expert and deputy minister of the NDRC, recently urged local governments to view the reform as "high priority".

He suggested that management rights should cover a period of 60-70 years, as compared with 30 years for farmlands.

Almost half of China's rural population lives in mountainous areas and depends on the forests for a living. And despite the rapid economic changes in the coastal cities, many of them remain poor.

The NDRC official said he was sure the reform would help lift them out of poverty, as shown by the pilot projects in Fujian and Jiangxi provinces. The forests are now generating a high income for farmers.

(China Daily August 16, 2007)

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