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Bamboo for land restoration in Chishui

Stories
8Aug

In 1998, China was battling the calamitous flooding of the Yangtze River, which took a heavy toll on the lives and economy. Located in the mountainous south western China’s Guizhou province, Chishui was also tremendously affected by the flooding. The province suffered major soil erosion of 32.5 per cent, or around 58,513 hectares of the total land in this region. Agricultural farming was a direct contributor: it led to the erosion of 20,500 hectares of soil which amounted to 35 percent of the total soil erosion in this region. In response to the overwhelming environmental challenge, the government swung into action and launched the largest ecological conservation and land restoration programme in China: the Yangtze River Shelter Forest Program. Banning timber harvesting in these areas, the aim of this initiative was to protect the basins of Yangtze River and Yellow River.

Another programme launched was the central Government’s “Green for Grain” initiative which focused on land restoration and improving forest coverage. Owing to its innate climate-smart benefits and its proven capability in preventing soil erosion, bamboo became an integral part of this massive afforestation drive. From 2001 to 2014 the afforestation action saw approximately 54,000 hectares of land restored with bamboo in Chishui. A large portion of this restored land was recognised under the Green for Grain program and covered almost 40,000 hectares. Out of land recognised by the Green for Grain program almost 14,000 hectares was used for farming while approximately 26,000 hectares used to be barren mountains.

As a part of the Green for Grain program, farmers were offered subsidies by the government amounting to almost 1500 RMB per hectare annually. For the land not recognised by the national program, the Chishui government offered its own support matching the subsidy offered by the program. The government derived this from its own funds, project budgets and private sector contributions. The government subsidies for the local government were focused on 5 different aspects, namely introduction of alternative energy (solar water heater, energy saving stoves), addition of new industries (plant dendrobe, mushroom, pear, peach, nuts and poultry farming), reforestation and rehabilitation of degraded land, reverse migration and finally grain to cultivated land ratio (activities aimed at improving soil quality, building irrigation facilities etc.). So far the total subsidy offered by the Chishui government amounted to 40 million RMB.

Environmental Impact

Due to the program the Sympodial bamboo forest cover has increased from roughly 11,000 hectares to 43,000 hectares; while the Moso bamboo forest grew from approximately 24,000 hectares to 35,000 hectares. By 2014, the forest stock of Moso was 82 million poles and the stock of Sympodial bamboo was 3 million tons.* Targeting a massive area, the Green for Grain program covered 14 townships and 2 districts, which subsequently impacted almost 51 thousand households and 189 thousand farmers from 99 villages. According to current estimates, Chishui has almost 87,300 hectares of bamboo forest which amounts to almost half a hectare of bamboo forest per capita! It is now ranked number one in China for its per capita bamboo forest. Almost 54,000 hectares of the total bamboo forest in Chishui was restored from 2001 to 2014. The forest coverage in this region has now increased from 62.2% in 1996 to 80.78 per cent in 2015.

Based on the monitoring results, 13,000 hectares of bamboo forest reduce 353 thousand tons of soil erosion annually. Owing to the afforestation drive, the sediment concentration in Chishui River reduced from 0.5 kg/m cubed in 2000 to 0.19kg/m cubed, dropping down by 62 per cent. Acting as natural defense for the Yangtze River basin, by restoring just the farmland bamboo has reduced 700 thousand tons sediment that used to flow into the Yangtze River annually. If optimal management of the bamboo forests are carried out then it could help capture up to 213,000 tons of carbon and mitigate 780,000 tons of CO2 greenhouse gas emissions.

The increase in the overall forest cover has also helped increase the wildlife numbers. According to the statistics of vertebrates, there are 92 bird species, 35 reptiles and amphibians, 20 fishes and 21 mammals that call Chishui home.

Economic Impact

While creating a definitive impact on improving the green cover, bamboo has also played a key role in supporting the economy of Chishui. Acting as a green bank for local farmers, bamboo provides income sources to improve the livelihood of nearly 200 thousand farmers in this region. The per capita income from bamboo for the agricultural population is approximately 2870 RMB per year based on the 65 per cent accessible Moso bamboo forests and 45 per cent accessible Sympodial bamboo forests.

The bamboo resource build-up has helped leverage the development of the bamboo sector. With the development of bamboo sector, more than 30 thousand farmers have shifted from primary industries to secondary industries and the service sector. There are now 375 bamboo related enterprises in Chishui, providing more than 10 thousand direct job opportunities to the local population.

Among the varied number of enterprises involved with bamboo in Chishui is the Chitianhua Bamboo Paper Pulp Co. Ltd, which could very well be the largest unit of its kind in the world. Setup with the technical support of INBAR, the bamboo paper pulp unit offers direct employment to more than 500 people and has created a value chain of bamboo farmers, who supply the raw material to the factory it indirectly, supports thousands of households. The bamboo paper pulp factory will additionally set up another 20,000 hectares of bamboo forest, which will be managed by the local farmers and thus create even more jobs for the local population.

INBAR has also worked alongside the local Forestry Bureau with the support of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), to explore how communities can more effectively harness the potential of bamboo. The initiative introduced practical climate-smart land management activities on three pilot sites totaling 10 hectares. Out of the 10 hectares selected for the project 6.7 hectares was reserved for bamboo culm production while 3.3 hectares was set aside for bamboo shoots. As a part of this project 21 farmers were trained on site while 45 more farmers, technicians and policy makers were offered training at a gathering supported by the Chishui forestry bureau. On average the project has had the following impact – bamboo culms productivity increased from 11t/ha to 19 t/ha, bamboo shoots productivity increased from 2000 kg/ha to 5000 kg/ha, on the 6.7 hectares reserved for bamboo culms, increased production translates to 20 tons of sequestered carbon and finally farmers’ incomes have increased by between 600 RMB/ha for bamboo culms and 9000 RMB/ha for bamboo shoots. Initially, the farmers selected from the project site were able to earn around 2870 RMB. However, after the launch of the project they now earn approximately 9000 RMB which could grow further to around 13,000 RMB.

Due to continual support and training offered, the bamboo sector in Chishui is growing rapidly and becoming an integral part of the economy. According to the data accumulated from the bamboo sector, the total value including bamboo forest production, processing, eco-tourism and retail in 2015 was 5.85 billion RMB.

Monitoring

Utilising an administrative approach and offering technical support, the local government continues to govern and monitor the land restoration program. The mayor and the first secretary of the party committee act as the leaders of steering group. The Steering group offices consist of multiple levels that cover the city and the villages and monitor the progress. For technical support the forestry bureau takes the onus of providing field investigations, planning, and technical trainings, purchase support for seedlings, fertilisers and other necessary materials and bamboo production monitoring.

Strategy and Policies for the Future

As a part of the new phase of the Green for Grain program, the Chishui government has planned to restore another 6,700 hectares of farmland, during the 13th Five Years’ Plan period. In 2015, 100 hectares of bamboo was added to the region while in 2016, the aim is to add approximately 700 hectares more. Of the total 87,000 hectares of bamboo forests in Chishui, the focus is on improving the yield of 67,000 hectares of bamboo forest set aside for production. Approximately 21,000 hectares has been allocated as an ecological bamboo forest.

As a part of the policy to strengthen the bamboo sector, the government is encouraging the transfer of bamboo forest management rights from individual farmers to cooperatives and companies in order to improve the management and utilization. Individual farmers who transfer these rights, will be able to earn from the rental generated and can also offer labor support for forest management, harvesting and transportation to earn additional income. In tune with the policy of improving the bamboo sector, bamboo forest management rights can also be used for taking loans from local banks. In the past 5 years, more than 70 million RMB of loan was released to farmers in Chishui.

In order to improve the accessibility to the bamboo forests and thus improve the yields, upgrading of 600 km roads will be carried out along with the building of 600 km of new roads and hardening of 2,000 km of roads. Further, the plan is to establish 600 SMEs in Chishui by the year 2020 and increase the value of bamboo sector to 10-20 billion RMB. For encouraging the growth of the SMEs, the government plans to build standard enterprise units which will be offered for usage to the SMEs rent free for a period of 2-3 years. These plants will be fully equipped with facilities required for a basic setup and the SMEs would only need to install their equipment to start production.

From the devastating floods of 1998 to now, Chishui has seen an outstanding turnaround. INBAR, along with the support of various partners, will be escalating its training programs in the near future in Chishui to benefit a greater number of farmers and their families. Staving off the detrimental impact of soil erosion and sediment flow into the Yangtze River, this region has not only restored the land but also strengthened its local economy with the support of bamboo. Rising from the brink of an environmental disaster to a sustainable economy built on bamboo, Chishui is an incredible yet achievable example of the potential of the remarkable bamboo.

*NOTES

In all provinces except Anji Moso bamboo is sold in poles while sympodial bamboos are sold on the basis of weight