Course:FRST370/Projects/The relationship between the Li Ethnic Minority People and APP China: an assessment of the prospects for sustainable forestry in Hainan Island, China

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Figure 1. The distribution of natural reserves in Hainan

Hainan Island possesses numerous tropical forest in history, but in recent years, for the sake of economic development, forest cover meets a dramatic decrease. During this process, APP China’s illegal logging method and unsustainable forest management contribute a lot to forest decrease. And the conflict between the community and the company as well as the authority makes the local unsatisfied, which also results in illegal felling by the local. In order to protect the forest and meet the sustainable requirement, some policies are enacted by the government and APP China also looks for new approaches to improve the business model with forest conservation. And Li Minority has a long history on Hainan islands, and they have their own thoughts to properly utilize forest resources. That is to say, a new relationship is building between the authority, the company, and the local people. They are supposed to conduct cooperation to meet sustainable development requirements and more local people ought to be involved in decision-making meetings using their generational knowledge. In addition, APP China is audited by FSC controlled wood certification authority in recent year. The dominant auditing standard is asking the company to establish a sound system to deal with disputes with indigenous people and to guarantee their rights. Hence, it is clear that better forest management system will be conducted in the future. On the other hand, tourism is the other major industry in Hainan so that the ecotourism and community developments are new chances and challenge for Hainan forestry. All entities obtain benefits, and better forest condition can be prospected only by cooperation between all affected groups.

Description (Hainan Island)

This community forest study locates in Hainan province in China. Due to globally unique tropical forest ecosystems and abundant species and genetic pool, Hainan is regarded as one of nine conservation hotspots in China[1]. There exist various biocoenoses and ecosystems like mangrove, rain forest and marine ecosystem which make up 13% of flora and fauna in China, and for this reason, Hainan is a crucial area to global biodiversity and attracts plenty of environmental protection organizations and environmentalists[1]. However, in order to meet economic requirement and urbanization construction, forest are converted to farmland or industrial land. Therefore, sustainable forestry urgently needs to be studied.

Description (The community)

Li minority and Han are the major nationalities live there. Before the emancipation of new China, Li minority lived in hills and plains depending on shifting cultivation[2]. After the revolution of 1949, with the concern and assistance of the government, they began to use wood to build house and farm in their land. Lacking enough knowledge, the Li minority argued that they did not need to conduct afforestation because new trees would regenerate naturally after logging, which results in forest destruction to some extent[2]. Due to the fact that fewer trees could be harvested and their income decreased, the local village council put forward a good idea that to increase afforestation to meet sustainable development, and then with the help of the authorities and local company, the living quality of Li minority increased and the environment and ecosystem raised as well[2].

Recent year, because of the change of tenure and the establishment of nature reserves, their customary rights such as possessing access to forest resources, farming and logging in their land were hit. Although they agree and support to establish natural reserves because they convince that good forest condition leads to better agriculture[3], their land loss and less or no compensation from the government or the company forced them to illegally log to make a living. In addition, at the beginning of the 21st century, the biggest local forest company (i.e. APP-China) over-logging and illegal harvesting have already made the local community enraged and resentful. The local complain that the amount of timber yield and the price for wood and the rent for the land are low, and they are unwilling to provide lands[4]. As for the forest management system, the local also suppose that it is unreasonable that the company log big trees but only plant small ones[4]; and lacking enough rights to be involved in decision-making, they feel powerless to affect the management of their forest.

Description (The company APP-China)

APP-China is the largest forest business in the local. In the early 21st century, depending on the policy of returning the cultivated land to forest[4], the company developed and occupied the main market in Hainan. Due to the unsustainable management system and improper silvicultural concept, the company caused huge destruction to the local forest. For instance, without supervision approaches, illegal logging which not only conducts from the company but also the outsiders become more and more frequent; and when the company is short of raw materials, they began to harvest natural forest in Hainan[4]. Furthermore, during the logging, public interests and infrastructures such as forest roads were destroyed as well[4].

Under the grand context of sustainable management, APP-China is seeking change to join the global timber market. They propose the concept of “integration of Plantation-Pulp-Paper” to meet the requirement of national sustainable development[5]. On the other side, the company put forwards sustainable management goals and paths. The goal is to meet the requirements of sustainable development, to develop sustainable production pattern and to create healthier lifestyle; and the main approaches to achieve these goals is to establish a sound management system especially to promote stakeholder engagement[5]. Dealing with local disputes and mainly hiring local people are other affairs they recently conduct to make the community involved in their industry and promote local people's lives. In addition, the company often holds safety lectures and community events to establish the relationship between the company and the community closer[5]. Nowadays, accepting audit by FSC (Forest stewardship council) controlled wood and proactively seeking for a new relationship with the community, the company is in a business transition stage and their endeavor regarding more sustainable community forest are visible. The most significant items under FSC controlled wood auditing is to allow the company to harvest the timber which does not in violation of traditional and human rights[6] so that the local's customary rights can get guaranteed. Stakeholder consultation is also an important index which requests to establish disputes system by Forest Management Enterprise and the conflicts regarding land tenure or land use rights are supposed to be handled as soon as possible[6].

Tenure arrangements

As it mentioned in the paper that the land tenure in Hainan is similar to that in other regions of China except for coexisting of state-owned forests and collective forests[7].

Before 1950, the lands belong to landlords. Landlords are able to do everything in their land.

In 1950-1956, under China’s land reform implemented, the government confiscated all the lands from landlords and allotted those lands to the local. However, the state-owned logging firms distributed some remote areas especially the rain forests[7].

During the "socialistic transformation" from 1957, there were two important tenure reformation. The lands were redistributed to the collectives from the individuals in the first stage (i.e. collectivization); And then, all the lands were returned back to the "people’s communes"[7]. The land tenure in these two phases is promiscuous and insecure and it hints the new transformation in the following years.

In the late 1970s, "economic reform" began introducing the "household responsibility system" to the local[7]. According to the contractors signed with the collective, local people are able to manage their land and make a living by farming or other agricultural activity. And joint plantation projects were also introduced at this stage which refers to the co-management between the Ministry of the Forestry, the local collectives and local people[7]. Due to the significance of rain forest, the government paid more attention to forest conservation and enacted some relevant laws to restrict logging at the same time so that some land rights were restricted.

Until now, there are two main ownership types in Hainan. One is state forest managed by state forest enterprises and farms, and the other is the collective forest with the growing share with timber production. As for the collective forest, there are also some different categories. For instances, individual household management refers to that the family household can manage their small private plots including contract signing, rental, planting and occupation. Villager cluster means the land managed by the village. And another main type is ecological reserve co-managed by the collective and the statue.

As for the Li Minority people, throughout all the stages, the biggest challenge they confront with is that, when the government established the nature reserves, their access to forest was restricted resulting in those people who highly depend on natural resources lost source of income, lost job and became resentment; while the government only provide limited income sharing or compensation for local community[8].

When it comes to the company and the community, the company signs the contractor with land-owners and pay the annual stumpage. And the owners can dispute issues such as the low land rental fee or the destruction to their land with the company.

Affected Stakeholders

  • Forest-owners (i.e. the villager and Li minority) are the main affected stakeholders because all forest activities are conducted in their customary lands and they possess associated rights to the lease contract, to decide harvest benefit distribution and to get some compensation[9]. When the government established the natural preservation areas, some rights of them are violated and some of them even hard to make a living. And they only are provided information from the authority rather than consulted about their opinions and wills[8]. Due to the fact that the company logs in their forest, what the company do or destruct is also closely linked to them.
  • Local employees who belongs to this area are the other affected stakeholders. They are hired by local company to manage the forest and ought to receive training as well as obtain turnover and salary from the company.

Interested Outside Stakeholders

  • The forest company APP-China is the major interested stakeholder. This company is the largest forest business in the local and all the raw materials for papermaking industry are harvested from the local forest. Therefore, company's benefits are related to the land rental fee, stumpage and other fees such as compensation, environmental fee. The development of enterprises also depends on whether the community support or not.
  • As for the Forestry Bureau, they plan to establish conservation reserves and develop ecotourism in Hainan island, which is affected by forest condition and tenure as well. They ought to consult the community and make compensation. On the other side, decision and enactment of forest laws depend on local forest condition as well.
  • NGOs especially the environmental organizations are the interested stakeholders because there exist many endangered species which all attract their attention. In addition, plenty of rain forests in Hainan island are worthy of preservation.
  • Certification Authority like FSC is interested in Hainan forest as well. They aim to audit whether the company meet the sustainable requirements or not, to check whether the company violate the customary rights and to identify whether the company can get the certification to join the global market.
  • Customers and visitors are another interested groups. As for the former, high quality and safety timber products are what they need. They concern much about the price and quality. When it comes to visitors, appreciating the natural scenery and enjoying the national park tour are their primary goals.

Conflicts and challenges

In the early years of the 21st century, the main conflicts between the local and the government are that when the government establishes nature reserves, the local highly depending on natural resources are not allowed to access forest like before, and they also obtain less compensation such as the poor quality house for their loss. And the authorities only inform them what they want to do but do not ask for their advises and wills, which makes the local think the government lack interest in people's benefits and only focus on official benefits[8]. To make ends meet, some villagers illegally harvest timbers.

At the same time, the major conflicts between the community and the company are the forest and environment destruction the company causes. Illegal logging and over-logging all directly pose negative impact on the local’s land, while the community does not get compensation. And the local do not agree with the behavior that the company cut the natural forest to fill inventory. The land and timber price is another problem that the local cannot obtain enough benefits. On the other hand, in previous years, almost no one would concern local’s disputes and complains, and their rights were not guaranteed.

Nowadays, as for the company, the major challenges are to handle the disputes properly and meet local’s interests regarding environmental health, sustainable development and benefits. In order to achieve sustainable development goals, how to engage local experts and experienced villagers are the challenges for the company. And because the company provide lots of work opportunities to local people, the local ought to study relevant management and professional knowledge to collaborate with the company. In addition, illegal logging is always the significant issue, which asks for joint effect from the company and the local.


For the traditional forestry industry, both two groups ought to conduct something to promote themselves.

For the local:

  • Li minority and local people are supposed to learn more about forest management
  • When the local complain and dispute, they ought to exercise rights through legal and reasonable approaches
  • Avoiding illegal logging to obtain private interests

For the company:

  • To establish a sound complaint system for the local and solve the dispute as soon as possible
  • Regularly communicating with the community to find problems at work and forest activities
  • Consulting local experts when sustainable development method and system are improved
  • To supervise illegal logging from the inside and outside.
  • Providing job opportunity
  • Reporting its  working conference and other material information to stakeholders and the public

In addition, due to the unique tropical climate and abundant species, the development of ecotourism will be an inevitable trend. Hence, the co-management between the government, local biggest forest company (APP-China) and the community is necessary and significant. And sustainability can be regarded as an attractive point to the tourists. Not only the company but also the community can obtain benefit from emerging industry (ecotourism), so long as they cooperate with each other and reach a consensus. As Stone and Wall mentioned in the paper, the best way to develop natural reserves or ecotourism is letting local people act as stewards, and they shoulder the responsibility to manage the park and protect the forest and meanwhile, they benefit from their endeavor[8]. To sum up, as for the government, involving more local people in decision-making, park management ,and ecotourism development is a win-win tactic.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Ouyang, Z., et al. (2001). Nature Reserve Network Planning of Hainan Province, China. South-South  Cooperation  Programme on  Environmentally  Sound  Socioeconomic  Development  in  the  Humid Tropics. UNESCO Working Papers No. 32, Paris, France.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 郑, 海水 (2000-08-15). "海南黎族造林观念的转变". 爱学术.
  3. Davies, E., & Wismer, S. (2007). "Sustainable Forestry and Local People: The Case of Hainan's Li Minority". Human Ecology, 35(4), 415-426.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 Greenpeace (2005). "Investigation on APP's Hainan Project" (PDF).
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 APP-China Sustainable Development Report (2017). Retrieved from 
  6. 6.0 6.1 Forest Stewardship Council. (2018). FSC CONTROLLED WOOD Avoiding unacceptable sources. Retrieved from 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 Zhang, Y. Q., Uusivuori, J., and Kuuluvainen, J. (2000). Econo- metric Analysis of the Causes of Forest Land-use Changes in Hainan, China. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 30(12):1913–1921.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Stone, M., & Wall, G. (2004). Ecotourism and Community Development: Case Studies from Hainan, China. Environmental Management, 33(1), 12-24. doi:10.1007/s00267-003-3029-z
  9. Yu Xie, et al. (2016). Stakeholder Identification of Plantation‐based Forest Companies: Case Study from China. Retrieved from:

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This conservation resource was created by Ye Shen.