Course:FRST370/The impacts of returning farmland to forests and grasslands in Xiji County, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region (Province), China, and subsequent industrial construction

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Xiji County is a key site in China's Returning Farmland to Forest Project. Due to the harsh climatic conditions here and the villagers have long relied on cultivated land for their livelihoods, after the implementation of the project of returning farmland to forest, the villagers have no source of income, making this county one of the poorest areas in China. This has brought many influences to the villagers.


Xiji County, Ningxia is in northwest China. The natural condition was harsh, drought and little rain, grassland degradation, serious desertification, and uneven vegetation distribution. In addition, Xijin County is one of the poorest places in China. The farmers, in order to feed themselves, started to reclaim forests and grasslands to plant grain. Hence, the people in Xiji County were in an endless loop which was more cultivated, more desolate, poorer, and began to cultivate again. The fragile ecological environment was damaged seriously.

Since 1999, the government published ‘Regulations on Returning Farming to Forests and Grassland’, and Xiji County was one of the test places. The aim of the project is to combine the development of ecological and economic forestry. For the long-term development and peasants’ benefits, the government distributed subsidized grain and subsidies to the farmers to cover their basic needs. According to the ‘Measures for the management of Funds for Ecological Protection and Restoration of Forestry and Grassland’, which was published in 2002, the government would subsidize 100 kilograms of grain per mu (a unit of area) returned farm-land every year, and each kilogram of grain could be converted into 1.4 RMB; 20 RMB for subsidize, and 50 RMB for the cost of afforestation each returned farm land; the subsidy for returning to grassland would last for 2 years, and 5 years subsidies for returning to forests[1].

This program did not run well at the beginning. The government only focused on the quantity of returning farmland, instead of quality. The plan did not meet the requirements of the local environment and the long-term development of farmer’s life[2]. The peasantries aimed to get the subsidies. They only attended to immediate interests and did not realize the emergency, short-term nature of the program. The farmers only planted the land without managing. The whole quality of the returning farmland had been affected seriously. Finally, the government was conscious that not only the long-term incomes of farmers could not be protected, but also the ecosystem would become worse and worse.

The government adopted a policy which combined the ecological environment and the development of the agricultural economy[2]. The policy was designed for small watersheds and adapted to local conditions. The land was divided into economic forests, shelter forests, and grassland. Therefore, while improving the ecological environment, the economic development and rural incomes are also focused.

Tenure arrangements

In China, forest land is divided into two main types of ownership: collective or state owned. The collective forestland owned by rural communities(i.e., villages), amounts to 170 million hectares, accounting for 60% of the nation’s total; the remaining 40% is state forest, owned by the national, provincial and local governments. Historically, the forestland reform followed the agricultural sector. Since the first reform in the early 1980s, the agricultural sector has been developing in the direction of individual family management[3].

The first round of forest reform took place in the mid-1980s. This reform, known as the "Three Solutions," is an important step because it allows collective forests to be allocated to households by contract. In fact, there was a lot of policy turbulence during this period, and forest land rights were allocated to households and villages at all levels in order[4].

By the mid-1980s, the government changed direction and established strict regulatory measures. In terms of forest harvesting, a permit is required to harvest timber for rural or commercial purposes[4].

After decades of limited actions, land reforms in recent years have begun to emerge, starting with the "Rural Land Contract Law" passed in 2002. The law allows the transfer, inheritance and mortgage of land contracted by farmers[4].

The central government responded to these diverse needs and developments, and formulated a new forest policy in mid-2003, the "Forestry Development Resolution" ("Policy No. 9"). The policy aims to correct the growing economic gap between rural and urban areas, and to enhance domestic forest production by empowering families to use and manage their forest land[4].

In October 2008, China took further steps, when the Central Committee reiterated its highly anticipated policy of allowing agricultural land rights transactions[4].

Administrative arrangements

‘The New Measures of Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region for the Administration of Forestland’ was published in 2005. It assumed that the competent forestry administrations of the people’s government at or above the county level shall be responsible for the planning, construction, protection, and utilization of forestland within their respective administrative areas. The farmers and local community of forest protection need to sign a contract of responsibility for management and protection with the government [5]. The landowner has a duty to maintain and protect the forest or grassland. If they encounter any difficulties, the land will be managed by the collective. The government of the county sets up a forest brigade and co-working with forest security which is managed by the county government. The forest brigade oversees managing the forest and grassland in the whole county; mediate disputes over conversion of farmland to forests; supervise the funds for forest protection. In each village, there is a detachment of forest protection. The village head will be the leader of the team, and the members are chosen among farmers who are involved in the program on their own. The detachment is supervised, inspected by the brigade at county level. The detachment is responsible for the management in their region; prevent the behavior of destruction of forest resources; take protective measures for the forest and grassland.

The government above the county level has power to transact the initial registration of land and trees or further changes. After examination and verification, they would issue the certifications of forest ownership or the right to use. The forestland owner or user must implement the plan for the protection and utilization of forestland published by the government. the wildlife, plant resources and natural landscape, as well as facilities used for forestry production should be protected. The detachment in village level has to record the condition of forests and grassland in their region, and the competent forestry administrations in county level inspect the forestland which has been converted from farmland to forests by law every week. If the land does not meet the standards, the owners or users should replant within a limited time.

Affected Stakeholders

Affected stakeholders-- villagers of Xiji County whose interest and life are directly influenced by decisions of forests and grassland management. There are two types of affected stakeholders; in 1998, China had the ‘Rural Land Contracting Policy’, everyone in a family could be a land contracting household who has right to take care of their collective land; after 1998, all new population in the village do not have their land and have no power to make any decisions of protecting the forests unless they inherit or rent the collective land[1]. Their objectives are getting economic benefits and improving the environment. The lands belong to the local communities, instead of individuals; but the villager who is the land contracting household can manage the collective land that the government distributed to them. In other words, the villagers have the ownership of the collective land, however, they are restricted in the exercise of rights[6]. The vegetation planted on the land which is covered by the project are arranged uniformly by the government. The farmers who have the collective land have contractual right of land, and they can contract for land, and they have the right to cultivate and administrate the plants of the land[6]. The choice of the vegetation species must be based on the ecosystem, the contractors can harvest all botany, and the incomes from selling the products belong to the villagers. Furthermore, according to the ‘Measures for the management of Funds for Ecological Protection and Restoration of Forestry and Grassland’, the land contracting households could get the subsidies from the government only if they plant the trees and grass in accordance with the plan and contract, and manage the land. They also have the right to choose the members of detachment for forests and grassland protection among the land owners. The farmers who are the owner of the collective land could also have power to lease, exchange, transfer, and auction the land. Villagers of Xiji County have a lot of benefits but medium to low relative rights.  

Interested Outside Stakeholders

Interested stakeholders-- Local government, the Bureau of Forestry.

Interested outside stakeholders, their relevant objectives and their relative power
Interested stakholders Main relevant objectives Relative power
Local govenment By establishing regulations, building local factories, etc., provide assistance and get benefits. Low interest / High power
The Bureau of Forestry Provide professional knowledge and supervise forest areas. Medium interest / High power

Local government’s main objectives are as follows. Issuing corresponding policies to support local development and development plans. Build local infrastructure to help local residents improve their living conditions. At the same time, factories will be built to provide villagers with enough job opportunities. Local government has low interest but high power.

The Bureau of Forestry’s main objectives are as follows. Helping with local communities in managing forests and providing relative professional knowledge. Supervising and assisting management of state-owned forests. The Bureau of Forestry has medium interest and high power.


The implementation of the project of returning farmland to forest is to make better use of land resources, increase forest coverage, alleviate soil erosion and desertification, reduce the frequency of drought and flood disasters, and increase the local biodiversity. Without the farmlands, the living standards of farmers will be greatly affected. But the government subsidy for 5 years to resolve this conflict of interest[7]. The government’s subsidies for returning farmland to forests not only ensure that farmers who return farmland do not have to worry about income for a period of time, but also create good opportunities and conditions for them to export labor services on a large scale and cultivate follow-up industries, and also give farmers a certain economic foundation. According to the policy, the Chinese government subsidizes 100kg of grain per year with 0.07hm2 of farmland converted, and the subsidy fund is 20 yuan.Plowing and planting forests and grasses are still owned and operated by individuals. Returning farmland to forests in some areas not only exerts ecological benefits, but also produces economic benefits. To be more specific, the local climate was adjusted[7]. Before returning farmland to forests, soil erosion occurred during the rainstorm season. Now this situation no longer exists; The number of wild animals is also increasing. At the same time, the grain output of Xiji County is also gradually increasing. The productivity of farmland and living conditions of farmers have been significantly improved.


In fact, China Forestry Administration is the only organization with substantive rights to manage forestry land. The right to use forests, trees and other forest land is regulated by the government. According to forestry laws and regulations, transfer, buy shares or make investment in joint venture, cooperative afforestation, or forest management,If the conditions of cooperation are met, the forest logging permits that have been obtained can be transferred at the same time. At the time of the transfer, both parties must abide by this law regarding forests, tree logging and reforestation.

Specific hierarchical management system were applied for the governance of Returning Farming to Forests and Grassland in Xiji. The State Forestry and Grassland Administration and the provincial people’s government sign the project construction responsibility every year. Based on the results of the annual management performance verification and the comprehensive national afforestation verification. Announce the implementation of the letter of responsibility and implement the specifics of the government accountability system. Provincial, city, county, and township levels have established a leading group for the work of returning farmland to forest and grassland led by party and government leaders, and signing responsibility letters at various levels to clarify the main responsibilities[8]. The provincial-level competent department prepares the annual implementation plan according to the overall plan, and deposes the planned tasks to the county. The county-level competent department compiles the villages and towns in accordance with relevant plans, annual plans and farmers’ wishes. Manufacturing industry design, concretely implement the task of returning farmland to forest and grassland to farmers[8].

After returning farmland to forests and grasslands, the competent authorities continue to organize and carry out benefit monitoring and insist on using scientific data to report to the people. The Chinese Academy of Forestry, the Economic Development Research Center of the National Forestry and Grass Administration and other relevant units jointly carry out the monitoring and evaluation of the ecological, social and economic benefits of returning farmland to forests[8]. A total of more than 1,000 professional and technical personnel participated. Ecological benefit monitoring is based on the national forest ecological positioning station network system, including 108 national ecological positioning stations and more than 230 auxiliary observation points[8].

The hierarchical and transparent management system enables the stable implementation of the plan of returning farmland to management, moreover, all data and results are recorded to facilitate governance.

However, returning farmland to forests and grasslands also faces many problems and contradictions. China is the world's largest developing country with a large population base and relatively short supply of land for production, living and ecology. The task of returning farmland to forests and grassland is difficult to implement; subsidy and compensation policies need to be further improved; the quality and benefits of implemented projects need to be improved.


Managers need to change from the traditional concept of protecting natural resources to the concept of joint development of community development and environmental protection, so as to provide favorable conditions for community economic development.

Local residents should participate in the work of environmental protection, and maintain the converted plantation forests and stop destroying them.

The local government and the Bureau of Forestry should cooperate, make corresponding publicity together, and provide professional knowledge about conservation.


  1. 1.0 1.1 How is the Land Allocated for New or Dead People. (2019, 8 2). Retrieved from Land Resource:
  2. 2.0 2.1 Luo, X., & Han, J. (2006). Xiji County to Return Farmland to Forest and Grassland and Farmers out of Poverty. Protection Forest Science and Technology, 75-77.
  3. Zhao, Yongjun (Fall 2001). "Choice of Land Tenure in China: The case of a county with quasi-private propety rights". Economic Development and Cultural Change. 50: 793–817 – via JSTOR.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 Xu, J., White, A., & Lele, U. (2010). China's Forest Tenure Reforms: Impacts and Implications for Choice, Conservation, and Climate Change: Rights and Resources Initiative.
  5. Lu, Y. (2007). The Present Situation and Management Measures of FOrestland in Ningxia. Ningxia Agricultural and Forestry Science and Technology, 64.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Zhang, S. (2003). The Rights of Farmers in the' Regulations of Returning Farmland to Forest' from the Perspective of the Right of Contracted Management of Rural Land. Journal of Xiangyang Vocational and Technical College, 62-65.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Li, X,J.,  Liu J, J, & Zhang S, L., (2010). Problems and countermeasures in returning            farmland to forests in Xiji County. Modern Agricultural Science and Technology,   (11), 221-221.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Luo, Q., & Wei, H.J. (2008). Research on the follow-up industry development of the project of returning farmland to forest (grass) in Xiji County. China Soil and Water Conservation, 2008(2), 28-31.



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This conservation resource was created by Course:FRST370.
  1. Luo., Wei, QiangQiang, HongJun (2008). "Research on the follow-up industry development of the project of returning farmland to forest (grass) in Xiji County". China Soil and Water Conservation: 28–31.
  2. Li, Liu & Zhang, Jiayi, Jian, Xuanwu (2010). "roblems and countermeasures in returning farmland to forests in Xiji County". Modern Agricultural Science and Technology: 221–221.