Course:FRST370/2022/The Mountain Restoration Project of Huaihua city, Hunan Province, China: history, successes, challenges and suggestions

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During the 1980s, the forestry contract system was implemented in the mountainous area of Huaihua city, China. The ownership of the Huaihua mountain forest belongs to the collective and the land use right was contracted to each household. The farmers could only use the mountainous area but could not transfer it or and desert it. Due to the excessively dispersed and unclear land property rights, the mountainous area of Huaihua at that time was faced with serious deforestation and the development of forestry economy was slow. In November 1990, Huaihua, as one of the first experimental projects of “Mountain system construction”, carried out a series of tenure system reforms. With this reform as the background, this case study introduces the development of Huaihua community forestry and analyzes the impact brought by the reform of tenure system.


Huaihua, community forestry, tenure, mountain restoration, reformation


Huaihua City, also called "City of Crane", was known as "Hezhou" and "Wuxi" in ancient times, is a prefecture level city in Hunan Province, located in the south of the west of Hunan Province, between Wuling Mountains and Xuefeng Mountains, between 25 ° 52 ′ 22 ″~29 ° 01 ′ 25 ″ north latitude and 108 ° 47 ′ 13 ″~111 ° 06 ′ 30 ″ east longitude, with a total area of 27564 square kilometers. Huaihua City is located in the transitional part of the subtropical Sichuan Hubei Hunan Guizhou climate zone and the Jiangnan climate zone. Huaihua is the first experimental site in China's rural reform pilot area to approve and implement "mountain system construction". After years of experiments and promotion, a mountain forest system consisting of a long-term lease system, a well-developed contract system, a variety of forms of mountain forest use right transfer system and a well-developed mountain forest management system has been initially established, which has optimized the allocation of forest land resources, improved the forest land management efficiency, and become a successful case of forest land system construction in southern collective forest areas. The analysis of the background, evolution, content and effect of the system construction is of great significance to the construction of community forestry. By studying the reform process of the forestry property right system in Huaihua and the experience and lessons learned, we can get some inspiration about community forestry and get a Chinese community forestry model.

Tenure arrangements

Property rights before reform | China's national conditions at that time

Prior to the reform experiment in 1980s, China had just come to the end of a special and chaotic period in its history, during which a part of the Chinese people tried to skip the capitalist stage and go straight to communism, contrary to the actual laws, which eventually led to a series of confusions from top to bottom in China, including the confusion about the management of individual and collective assets. At that time, the vast majority of assets were nationalized, including the property rights of forestry assets such as tenure of forests, and economic activities were unified and dispatched by the national government, gradually accumulating a series of problems during the decade, which eventually erupted with the end of the era and social changes, leading to many serious consequences.

Reform process | Why reform like this | Capitalization | Problems encountered and solutions

After the end of that period(1967-1977), China embraced reform and opening up, and forestry resources were reorganized and redistributed, with Huaihua having implemented a system of responsibility for forestry production similar to the family contract responsibility system (a way of production and management in which peasants contract the means of production and production tasks to collective economic organizations on a household basis). During this period(the reform and opening up), mountain forests were divided into "self-reserved hills" and "responsibility hills" and distributed equally to each farm household. Due to the extreme division of mountain and forest use rights, unclear land policies and lack of supervision, deforestation problems arose, because all the people who were assigned the property rights of the mountain forests wanted to get more money by cutting and selling trees in a short period of time, and nobody cared what to do later. During this period, there were two difficulties in the mountainous areas of Huaihua: the slow economic development of environmental forestry and the deterioration of the environment.[1]


1. Violations of the law are frequent, and the interests of forest farmers are infringed.

2. Nominally one enterprise enters the mountain for development, but in fact several enterprises enter the mountain together and conflict with each other.

3.The serious phenomenon of deforestation has led to the destruction of forest assets and forest ecological environment in many places.[2]


1. Establish the property right system in mountainous areas.

-First of all, it is clear that the collective mountain land belongs to the township (town) and village farmers respectively. It is necessary to establish corresponding economic cooperation associations to exercise their ownership rights and clarify their management functions, so as to change the original situation that the owners of the mountain land are vain.

-Secondly, the right to use mountain land should be clarified. The subject of the right of use has the right to develop and utilize the land by himself, to transfer the land he does not operate to others in various forms, to receive the proceeds from land operation and land transfer (after deducting the ground rent), and to enjoy the right of inheritance.

-Thirdly, the contracting system is improved with a long-term lease system. Change the original contractual relationship between the collective and farmers into a long-term lease relationship, with the lease period determined to be unchanged for 60 years, giving farmers a long-term stable expectation of using the mountain and reducing their short-term behavior in operating the mountain.

-Fourth, the ownership, boundary and area of the mountain land leased by farmers and other mountain management units were fully verified and implemented.

-Fifthly, we issued "Collective Mountain Lease Permits" to farmers and other mountain management units who rented mountain land.

-Sixth, while defining the ownership of the mountains and forests, the ownership of trees should be clearly defined so that the undivided mountains and forests can also be consistent in terms of property rights.

2. Establish a standardized transfer system of the right to use mountains. Establish an alternative community forestry

-First of all, "farmers have not only the right to use the leased mountain land, but also part of the right to dispose of it and part of the right to gain. The right to use the mountain land can be transferred to other development organizations and individuals for a fee. The original lessee can receive the proceeds of the mountain land use right."

-Second, to determine the behavioral norms for the transfer of mountain land use rights.

-Third, to regulate the procedures for the transfer of the right to use mountain land.

-Fourth, design and print a special standard contract for the transfer of mountain land use rights in accordance with the newly prescribed procedures and formalities.

3. Improve the mountain management system.[1]

-We will discuss this part in detail below.

Institutional/Administrative arrangements

Policies before reform | China's national conditions

As mentioned above, China had just gone through a chaotic period (1967-1977) prior to reform and opening up. The experience of that period proved to be impractical, and forestry management was in dire need of reform. Before the reform, the forestry industry system in the southern collective forest areas basically followed administrative levels and hierarchical management. The only difference was that some had the province as the unified accounting unit, while others had the region as the unified accounting unit. Jiangxi is dominated by the provincial timber company, whose subordinate units have party and government relations under local leadership. It implemented the vertical management system of "unified planning, graded management, graded accounting, and statistical profit and loss". Therefore, forestry production at that time was closely related to the local government. Under such circumstances, the management and ownership of collective forestry at that time could be subdivided into the coexistence of collective forestry and forestry industry and commerce, and the coexistence of state-owned and collective forestry.

The management policy of collective forestry at that time was that the state issued a purchase plan to buy timber that met the current national construction needs, and then forestry producers sold the corresponding amount of timber to the government. This was a mode of distribution under public ownership of the means of production that was in the long-term interest, but it ignored the fact that collective forestry ownership was still collective ownership by the producers, not absolute public ownership. In those days in China, collective forestry policies and the government combined subsidies and penalties to combat the spontaneity and motivation of forest operators. Government-issued logging targets have become the sole justification for action. Since forestry serves only government orders, operators do not adequately consider how to balance use and commercial values, which has led to the destruction of collective forests. [3]

Reform policy | Why should we change this | Problems encountered and solutions

After the reform and opening up, forestry construction, as an independent economic sector, was supposed to be the unified responsibility of the local government's forestry administrative agency. However, at the early stage of reform and opening up, non-forestry units also entered forest areas for timber production and operation, and the management of forestry was in a chaotic state. Some local food, supply and marketing, foreign trade, local specialties, daily necessities, medicine, etc. were all trying to manage forestry and building their own economic forestry bases. Due to different leaders and different task requirements, each department carries out its own development planning, so that the bases "fight" with each other and compete for land, labor and capital. In the end, no one can implement it, resulting in a waste of investment and human resources.

Under the management system at that time(1980s), deforestation and forest protection were separated. In leading the forestry work, the industrial sector, of course, demanded timber and wood products from forestry enterprises, including forestry management agencies, and made the completion of timber production tasks an important indicator for assessing the enterprises, while reforestation was the responsibility of the agricultural sector. Forestry has a long production cycle, cultivating a generation of forests, ranging from 20 to 30 years to more than 100 years. The rate of renewal does not catch up with the rate of harvesting, and the number of resources collected is getting smaller and smaller. In this context, the gradual decrease of forestry resources, while the goal of production tasks is always present, creates conflicts between provincial enterprises and local people. These conflicts are directly or indirectly related to the interests of both parties. In order to increase the income of the communities and their members, they have to cut down timber, which creates a vicious circle[4]. It is clear that forestry management at that time was facing a very serious test. There were a few main factors that contributed to this situation:

1) Free cutting of forest resources.

The price of timber at that time was only a combination of the cost of cutting and a small amount of cutting profit, and did not include the cost and profit needed to cultivate forest resources. This unreasonable price objectively caused a vicious circle of business economy and a serious loss of control over the amount of deforestation. Although at that time China's Forestry Law had clearly defined the amount of logging, because the means of detection were still backward and understaffed, and the annual growth was not a constant or simple variable, this means of legal restraint still seems very weak to this day and could not curb the sharp decline of forest stock in state-owned forest areas. According to the collection channel at that time, the enterprises' forest cultivation fund was extracted from timber production, which averaged 135 yuan per cubic meter, far below the cost of forest cultivation. In addition, a significant portion of this fund was used by the competent authorities. The forest cultivation fees returned to enterprises fell far short of the requirements for reproduction, which was the fundamental reason why forest management could not keep up with the rate of logging[5].

2) Free occupation of fixed assets.

At that time, China's forestry and forestry enterprises had high consumption of fixed assets, but the output rate and profit margin were low. Nevertheless, many enterprises still adopted the strategy of "more is better than less" in terms of fixed assets allocation, and asked the state for investment by various means, developing the three boards (Plywood, fiberboard and particle board) industry with huge investment everywhere. Due to the huge difference between the price of "three boards" and logs, as well as the quality factor, most enterprises do not make profits from their investments, but rather offset the profits gained from mining and transportation production. The response of enterprises to market demand is often one-sided, non-economic and inefficient. Clearly, this "investment hunger" that jeopardizes the economic development of the entire state forest region is the result of a double hotbed of free occupation of fixed assets and soft budget constraints.[5]

3) The enterprise lacks long-term and correct business objectives.

Forestry has a long production cycle, so it is more important to set stable forestry business goals and correct business measures. However, in practice, changes in business leadership are extremely frequent, resulting in unstable business goals and measures.[5]

4) There are problems with the implementation of policies and the delivery of information

The process of policy issuance and implementation has not been put into practice, and most people in the forestry economic chain do not enjoy the benefits that the policy should bring. The speed and efficiency of information transmission is so low that the market cannot be adjusted in a timely manner according to supply and demand, and there is often an oversupply of obsolete products, while the products that are really needed are not available, and the whole forestry economic chain is damaged as a result.[6]

The solutions were:

1. Optimize and adjust the unbalanced forest structure.[7]

2. Promote the development of forestry related education and scientific research, promote forestry scientific and technological achievements, and promote the upgrading and transformation of forestry technology.[7]

3. Promote the construction of forestry infrastructure and develop processing and utilization projects around resources.[7]

4. Develop international market for specific advantageous products.[7]

5. Formulate preferential policies suitable for development, improve the service process of government departments, ensure the smooth implementation of policies, and ensure the stable development of forestry economy.[7]

6. Formulate rules for mountain development and act according to the rules.[8]

7. Raise funds and organize sufficient labor.[8]

8. Ensure the management of developing mountainous areas, and the development process should be stable.[8]

9.Improve the Forestry Law, strictly enforce the law, guarantee the implementation of the law, maintain the dignity of the law and protect the legal rights and interests of forest assets owners.[2]

10.In line with the market economy, the establishment of a variety of forms of joint-stock cooperative forestry, easy to manage, easy to stimulate the vitality of the forestry economy.[2]

11.Pay attention to the control of the actual number of logging each year, protect the fragile ecological environment and maintain a balance between development and conservation, economy and ecology.[2]

Affected Stakeholders

Farmers and mountain management units with long-term lease and use certificate

Before and after the reform, farmers and mountain management units with land use rights are affected stakeholders in this case study area. For local farmers, timber harvesting is an important source of income as well as providing firewood for cooking and heating.[1] Similarly, mountain management units (in the 1990s mainly included state-owned forest farms, nurseries, collective forest farms, etc) also have a long-term dependency relationship on the mountain area.[9] After the reform, this relationship was further strengthened with the issuance of long-term 'collective mountain lease licenses', and the right to use land can be transferred.[1][10]

Village and county level economic cooperatives and associations

Economic cooperatives and economic associations are the subject of mountain ownership in the studied area.[11] In the rural areas of China, economic cooperatives are organizations of economic activities that aimed at poverty alleviation and development. They are mainly village-owned enterprises, and members include all rural residents who comply with the constitution of the village economic cooperative.[1] Their role is to perform management functions at the ownership level, including monitoring the efficient use of mountain resources by users and ensuring clear ownership of leased mountain areas, etc.[1]

Interested Stakeholders

Forestry enterprises that rents land use right

Forestry enterprises that rent land use rights are interested stakeholders because they usually rent the land for a relatively short period of time[6] and have no or very low dependency on a particular forest land. After the tenure reform, more transferable of forestland use rights made it easier to rent for these enterprises, which boosted local economic development.[10] At the same time, farmers who lease land use rights can benefit from rents and sustainable mountain development.[10]

Government and tenure reform working group

The mountain reform working group is a group of professionals drawn from government and business units of Hunan province.[1] They were responsible for making reform recommendations to the provincial government based on the reform experiment and connecting local communities with the government.[1] And the local government is responsible for the formulation and implementation of specific institutions and policies. They are not directly related to the forest area and are only responsible for reform or governance. The goal of this mountain reform project was to reverse serious deforestation and accelerate the development of local forestry economy.[6]

Huaihua Forestry Bureau

The Huaihua Forestry Bureau has a similar role to the government. During the reform, their main responsibility is to plan, supervise and solve specific problems in property rights reform.[9] Again, they do not have a long-term relationship with the land, and they are interested stakeholders.


Before the reform experiment

The forestry management of the whole country is very inefficient. Unclear ownership and failed production responsibility system seriously hit the enthusiasm of forestry producers in the last century, making production efficiency extremely low and the phenomenon of deforestation and seizing forestry resources that are not in the planning. The function distribution of government departments is too decentralized, and there is a lack of departments capable of centralized management of forestry problems, which makes the government's management of forestry in a state of chaos for a long time and wastes a lot of social and government management resources[12].

During the reform

During the reform, the government tried to learn from the effective production systems in other industries, establish a long-term lease system, encourage forestry marketization, and recognize the value of land transfer in forestry development. Consolidate government departments and relevant functions, establish Proactive governance system, so as to realize the forestry development system that is guided by the government but recognizes market economy and capital flow, strengthen the guidance and supervision role of the government, reduce the functions that the government played an absolute role in forestry in the past, and improve the dominance of producers over their own products[3]. However, the reform and promotion of ownership is slow. It still requires a lot of work for producers to realize and understand their stakes in the forest, and to promote forestry production to the market is also faced with the problems of capital and capital flow, which are still the key direction of reform


High importance and high influence


·       Under China's centralized political system, the government has a huge capacity to intervene in various industries. Especially in the forestry industry, which is recognized as the related industry of social shared resources, it is almost dominated by the government’s industry and agricultural departments. The Chinese government has the right to intervene in various industries at a very high level [3]. In the usage and decision-making of forestry, the government is the most powerful power.

High importance but low influence

Local community people:

·       In the last century, Huaihua residents had no clear concept of their stakes in the forest. Therefore, they did not express a lot of their rights demands and showed no enthusiasm to solve the problem during 1980s. However, as the most direct stakeholders in forestry production, their demands are actually quite important in this event, thus they can influence the decision making of government. The follow-up reforms of the Chinese government are mostly to clarify the ownership of forests and mobilize the enthusiasm of local residents[3]. But in general, the impact of local residents was very small.

Low importance but high influence

Communes and companies:

·       The communes and companies mainly followed the instructions of the government in forestry management and completed their production tasks according to the indicators provided by the government. In China, last century, they had low autonomy, so they did not have a clear voice in forestry decision-making. However, as the direct executors of forestry production, their income status directly affected the income level of local residents, which was the direct reason for the excessive forestland cutting[12].

Village and county level economic cooperation association and land developers:

·       The two are not directly involved in forestry related decision-making and management, but they are closely related to the funds for forestry management. In the early stage of forestry reform, the management right and income right of land were gradually decentralized, but forestry producers lacked the ability of independent investment and financing channels, so economic cooperation association and land developers with funds to concentrate forestry resources were important fund providers for forestry development in that period[13].

Low importance and low influence

NGOs and other third parties:

·       The main role of NGOs is to rely on the power of the people to coordinate different stakeholders in various events or directly participate in improving the status quo. However, the development of NGOs in China started late. Before 1980s NGOs in China could not speak effectively for the forestry problems in Huaihua and so do other third parties’ power[14].


The forestry problem in Huaihua was the reflection of China's forestry problem in the last century. This involves the complex relationship among ownership, capital, government and producers under the Chinese regime. In the follow-up reform, the focus should still be on decentralizing the control of products, clarifying the ownership of forest resources, and making forest producers and stakeholders clear their own rights and have the right to control their own production through publicity, training and other forms, that is, making them understand the scope of production and sales they can freely choose.[12]

In addition, the government's forestry management system still needs to be simplified, and the management of forest cutting, maintenance and regeneration should be centralized in a unified forestry sector to change the situation that forestry management power is decentralized in different sectors. Relax the threshold for capital and market to enter forestry, such as lowering the threshold for bank loans and introducing policies to support the development of forestry market. Allow the market to supervise forestry production and optimize the channels for capital to enter the forestry market, appropriately promote the commercialization of forestry products, so as to replenish the funds for forestry development and improve the efficiency of forestry production. Formulate incentive policies to alleviate the financial problems of self-employed or small forestry enterprises by means of subsidies, so that they can remain enthusiastic. In addition, clear laws and policies are needed to ensure fairness, so that all individuals involved in the reform of the forestry system and forestry development can receive due rewards and enjoy their rights fairly


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 "Clear rights and accelerate the transfer of scale management by renting and contracting -- a phased test report on the construction of mountain system in Huaihua region". China Rural Survey. 04. 1996 – via Unknown parameter |writer= ignored (help)
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Chen, Xiaozhong; Shi, Yalan (1995). "Investigation and reflection on the problem of timber production and circulation--an investigation report from the difficult problem of reform in Huaihua forestry area". Forestry Economic Problems. doi:10.16832/j.cnki.1005-9709.1995.02.010.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Su, Tiancai (1980). "Discussion about the system and policy of collective forest area". Forestry Economy. 4: 29–32. doi:10.13843/j.cnki.lyjj.1980.04.006. Check |doi= value (help).
  4. Liang, Yuyan (1980). "Summing up historical experience and reforming forestry management system". Agricultural economic problems. 9: 22–27.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Mei, Xiaoming; Li, Tiansong; Di, Sheng (1986). "On the choice of the target model of forestry ownership reform". Forestry economics. 6: 8–12. doi:10.13843/j.cnki.lyjj.1986.06.002.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Zhang, Zhixiong (1999). "Discussion on land property right System and forest land protection in collective forest area". Forestry Resources Management. 01 – via
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 Man, Weiliang (1992). "A few thoughts on mountain area development". Journal of Huaihua Teachers College. doi:10.16074/j.cnki.cn43-1394/z.1992.01.023.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Liu, Chongyi (1994). "Some thoughts on the development of high-quality, high-yield and high-efficiency forestry". Central South Forestry Survey and Planning. doi:10.16074/j.cnki.cn43-1394/z.1992.01.023.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Cheng, Yunxing (2004). "The southern collective forest region of woodland property right system".
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Bai, Nansheng; Pang, Lihua; Xiong, Kaiping (2021). "Promoting mountain development by system construction: An experiment of mountain system construction in Huaihua region". Management World. 01: 145–153. doi:10.19744/j.cnki.11-1235/f.2001.01.022.
  11. "Land Administration Law of the People's Republic of China(First revision)". The website of the Chinese People's Congress. 2019.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Liang, Yuyan (1980). "Summing up historical experience and reforming forestry management system". Agricultural economic problems.
  13. Li, Chenjie; Wen, Tiejun (2009). "Macroeconomic Fluctuation and the Reform of China's Collective Forest Property Right System -- Analysis on the Institutional Change of the Three "Separation and Combination" Road of China's Collective Forest Property Right Reform since the 1980s". China Soft Science.
  14. Yacao, Min; Lili, Chen; Yanjun, Hao (2018). "Analysis of the Development Problems and Countermeasures of NGOs in China". Times Finance.

Province/Prefecture: Hunan Province

This conservation resource was created by Course:FRST370.