Documentation:Open Case Studies/FRST522/Grain for Green Program in Northwestern China

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The world largest ecologic construction program---Grain for Green Program in China

The Chinese Grain for Green Program[1]


Fig. 3.1 Participation of regions by year (Cui, 2009)[2]

For the planted forests in Northwest part of China, I focus on a large project called “Grain for green” (GFG), which is an essential part of the Three-North Shelter Forest Program.

China government initiated the “Grain for Green” program in 1999, which has the largest amount of investment and the largest affected areas. It is the world’s largest ecology construction project. Only the central government invested more than 430 billion yuan of funds. Millions of people participate in this project. In 1999, Si Chuan, Shaanxi, and Gansu are the first batch of provinces that start the project. Due to the good effects, this project was extended to 25 regions in 2002. [3]

The main goal of this program is to prevent flooding and soil erosion in Northwest part of China, especially at the loess plateau. The Loess Plateau used to be a fertile area where is the cradle of Chinese civilization. However, due to the deforestation, slope farming, and over-grazing, the ecosystem was destroyed. Vegetation degradation and desertification cause significant flooding and soil erosion in western China. According to the research, there are 34.07 million ha of farmland in the Yangtze and Yellow river basins, but over 4.25 million ha are slope farming (Xu et al., 2006) In order to alleviate those problems, this project is designed to convert the farmland back to forest or grassland at Northwest part of China. [4] Between 1999 and 2012, GFG program planted 24.86 million ha of forests.

The GFG program is an 8 years’ program. The first program is started in 1999 and finished at 2008. At 2008, this program is extended for another 8 years. In addition, this program not only improved the environmental condition but also improved the average household income and life quality who participated in this program [PROVIDE A CITATION FOR THIS STATEMENT].


Tenure arrangements

Grain for Green program in Shaanxi

In China, there two types of land tenure. The first type of ownership is “state-owned land”. All the land in urban is owned by the state. All the other land including suburb and rural areas belongs to the collectivity. Although the urbanization rate increased significantly, over 40% of the population still live in rural areas. Therefore, the collectively-owned land system is used at most of China land, which is mainly cultivated land and homesteads, and also includes collectively-owned forests, mountains, grasslands, wasteland and beach land as prescribed by law. The farmland is a type of collectively-owned land. For example, the land owned within a village is owned by all the villagers. Individuals do not have right to manage the land, but the whole community members can decide the use of the land together.[5]

Under the collectively-owned land system, individuals can rent village’s land from the community for 70 years. If they rent land for agriculture purpose, there is no rental fee and the government will give subsidy for the farmers. If they rent land for another purpose, they will need to pay for the community. For the GFG program, the farmer will have the ownership of forest trees (grass) on their cultivated land after returning farmland to forest. The ownership certification will be issued after the land use change. Moreover, the period of contracting management right after returning the cultivated land to the forest can be extended to 70 years. The farmer who has the ownership certification can also transfer the ownership to others[6]

Administrative arrangements

There is three level of the administrative arrangements. The highest level is the central government. According to the analysis of environment condition by scientist, central government decides to process this large program. The aim and policy are delivered to the county, which is the second level. The plan and program target are planned at the county level. The Central government is responsible for supervising and examining the progress of the different county. At the county level, the professional staff investigates the condition at the base level. They find the most suitable places and suitable tree species for each location. Last but not least, the farmer is the lowest level of GFG program. The county and village leader will organize farmers to return agriculture land and plant new trees (grass). They also provide technical and economic support for the local farmer.


Affected Stakeholders

This is a program, there are two main stakeholders. Firstly, local people are the most important stakeholders who are directly participating and benefit from this program. Secondly, the county government is another important stakeholder, which has power.

For the local farmer, the cropland was replaced by the planted forests or grassland during the GFG program. In order to encourage the project, the government provides four main types of compensations for farmers, which list in Table 1. Those compensations’ specific amounts are varied at different province and a different year.

Grain compensation Government subsidize grain to farmers for retiring of cropland (After 2004 the grain compensation is converted to Cash)
Cash compensation 1. The government also subsidize cash to farmers support the life of farmers

2. Government also subsidize cash to farmers for tending the land and miscellaneous expenses.||

Seedling compensation The forestry agencies subsidy money or seedling to farmers who want to plant trees at their retired cropland or other places.
Tax discount Farmers who participate in the GFG program can have lower agriculture tax.

Table 1. The compensation system of GFG program

Another large stakeholder is the county government because they take the responsibility of GFG Program. Improving environment condition and citizen’s life quality who lived in their county is their mission. During this program, their obligation is to promote the success of the program by helping and leading the local farmer.

Interested Outside Stakeholders

The central government is the outside stakeholders of the program. They are the creator of the program not the direct executor of the GFG program. However, they have the highest power in the decision-making process of this program. They also responsible for collecting the expense of GFG program. What’s more, the urban citizen is an outside stakeholder of the program. They may not participate in the afforestation process but they all benefit from the improvement of natural environment condition. For example, this program directly reduces the risk of a sandstorm in some northern cities. They also have some power to affect the program because the government put more emphasis on the ecology system in the urban region. The ecologist and environmental protection organization also interested and play an essential role in this program. The aims of the GFG program is to restore the environment, which is proposed by the ecologist and environmental protection organization. They also provide theoretical and technical support during the implementation of the program.


In general, this program achieved a win-win situation. The environment condition improved significantly after this program. On the other hand, the overall income of participated farmers is also increased.


Vegetation cover

The GFG conversion of cropland to forestland reduced the water consumption, especially in arid or semi-arid areas. In general, GFG program successful improved the vegetation cover in affected region (Table 2.). However, “the impact of the Grain for Green in arid areas has not always been positive, given its emphasis on trees, rather than shrub or grass”.[7]

Year Vegetation coverage (%) Erosion modulus
1997 19.2 15,280.20
2000 36.5 11,478.80
2002 49.6 8,800.70
2004 69.8 5,865.10

Table 2. Annual soil erosion moduli (t/km2/year) [8]

Soil erosion

Due to the process of the GFG program, the soil erosion problem improved significantly, especially at Loess plateau. North part of Shannxi province used to have the most severe soil erosion problem in China. Since the implementation of GFG in 1999, the vegetation cover increased dramatically. At the same time, erosion modulus decreased from 1999-2004 (Table 3.).

Year Jingbian Ansai Baota Yanchang Luochuan Average
1998 19.5 22.1 28.5 21.5 56.9 29.7
1999 19.6 22.7 28.4 22.9 57.2 30.1
2000 21.5 24 29.7 24.5 58.2 31.6
2001 22 25.5 31.5 26.1 59.8 32.9
2002 23.7 27.7 34.8 28.9 62 35.4
2003 25.9 31.1 37.1 32.7 64.9 38.3
2004 26.4 33 39.4 35.9 66.5 40.3
2005 27.9 35.3 41 38.6 67.9 42.2

Table 3. Changes in the vegetation cover of five counties in Shaanxi Province from 1998 to 2005. [7]

Carbon Sequestration

The conversion of cropland to forestland also increase the carbon storage. The Northwest provinces Xinjiang, Qinghai, Shaanxi, Sichuan have large carbon sequestration through the GFG program. [7]

Achievement of Grain for Green Program in China


According to the statistic result, there is not enough evidence to say farmers participated in GFG program have significantly increased their income. However, it does not mean that GFG failed. The participants’ incomes may decline even more without the GFG. In some cases, the subsidies from GFG program occupies a large proportion of participants’ total income. On the other hand, there is no doubt that, the household income’ s composition and structurally changed through time. The presentation of agriculture income in total income decreased every year (table). [9]

There are strong indications that “the GFG has had different impacts in different areas, either because of differences in leadership, because of different local opportunities for off-farm work, or because of uneven environmental and ecological conditions.”[10]


GFG program also has some effects on the output and prices of grain. Due to the loss of agriculture land, the grain prices increased between 1999-2003. After the adjustment in 2004, GFG played only a minor role in the decline in agricultural output.

In addition, GFG increased the labor force in some region of China. Reduction of farmland also reduces the quantity of farmer. Some of them were trained for other jobs in factory or city, which increase the free labor.


The GFG program “focusing on the conservation and improvement of soil conditions and fertility, conservation of water resources, and carbon sequestration.” [7] The program has positive effects ecological consequences but it still has some problems. Planted trees not grass in some arid regions exacerbated the water shortage problem. The trees’ survival rate is very low in those areas.

Moreover, it is hard to achieve sustainability of the GFG program. Sustainability in this program means “whether households will maintain the land cover/land use changes introduced by the GFG, or whether they will revert to pre-GFG land uses once the subsidies end.” [7] This program started at 1999 and extended twice at 2007 and 2015 respectively. Under the current situation, the economic returns of land and labor from afforestation were lower than the returns of agriculture land. When the payment stops, the farmer may return the forest or grassland back to agriculture use again. If this situation happened, the investment that government made will have been squandered.


• Provide more power to local community

• Provide more job opportunities for local people, which can increase diversity of total household income

• Involve more outside stakeholders

• Improve the policy of land tenure and exchange rights

• Improve the environmental protection law

• Introduce card credit system in China which can increase the value of forest

• Reduce the poverty in rural region

• Introduce card credit system in China which can increase the value of forest

Additional link

1. Grain for Green program, China Forestry Bureau.

2. An analysis of China’s Grain for Green Program Book


  1. Persson, M., Moberg, J., Ostwald, M., & Xu, J. (2013). The Chinese Grain for Green Programme: Assessing the carbon sequestered via land reform. Journal of environmental management, 126, 142-146.
  2. Cui, H. (2009). 退耕还林工程社会影响评价理论及实证研究 [Theoretical and practical research on social impacts of the Grain for Green Program].
  3. The policy of "Grain for green". (2002). Retrieved 29 November 2017, from
  4. Grain for green project report. (2017). China Forestry Bureau. Retrieved 29 November 2017, from
  5. China land ownership. (2010). Retrieved 7 December 2017, from
  6. Grain to Green policy. (2010). Retrieved 7 December 2017, from
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 Delang, C. O., & Yuan, Z. (2016). China's Grain for Green Program. Springer International Pu.
  8. Yang, G., Ding, G. D., Zhao, T. N., & Sun, B. P. (2006). Study on the effects of returning cropland to forest in loessy hilly region on soil and water conservation – Taking Wuqi County in Shaanxi Province as an example. Bulletin of Soil and Water Conservation, 26, 88–99.
  9. Yin, R., Liu, C., Zhao, M., Yao, S., & Liu, H. (2014). The implementation and impacts of China's largest payment for ecosystem services program as revealed by longitudinal household data. Land Use Policy, 40, 45-55.
  10. Yao, S., Guo, Y., & Huo, X. (2010). An empirical analysis of the effects of China’s land conversion program on farmers’ income growth and labor transfer. Environmental Management, 45(3), 502-512.

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This conservation resource was created by Jiarui Yan.