Community-based co-management projects in Gansu Baishuijiang National Natural Reserve in China

The community-based co-management (CBCM) was introduced in Baishuijiang National Natural Reserve in China because of the failed integration of local social needs into conservation policies. The structure, advantages and disadvantages of the CBCM projects will be discussed. Power relation in terms of interested stakeholders (the government, NGOs and enterprises) and affected stakeholders (minority group: “Han” and two Ethnic Minorities “Zang” and “Hui” people) will be assessed. The conflicts between conservation goals and social needs are the key topic over the whole article, and recommendation for the CBCM projects in the context of China will be mentioned.

Author: Xudong (Elvis) Mao

Contents

Description

Location of Baishuijiang Reserve in Gansu Province


The government of China, up to 2010, had invested approximately US$100 billion in protecting forests and ecosystems, built over 300 National Natural Reserves that covers the majority of China’s counties and targeted 76 million ha of land and generated the “Six Key Forestry Programs”, which includes Three Norths Shelter Forest System Project, Natural Forest Conservation Program, Sand Control Program, Grain for Green Project, Forest Industrial Base Development Program, Wildlife Conservation and Nature Reserves Development Program. Baishuijiang National Natural Reserve was one of the over 300 Reserves.


Baishuijiang National Natural Reserve is situated in Wenxian County, Gansu Province, northwestern part of China. It was funded in 1978 [1] for protecting giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) and other endangered or valuable species and covered approximately 213,750 ha area. (according to Diqiang's article [2], however, Baishuijiang was part of the initial protected areas in China that was established in 1963) Notably, Giant pandas are a significant species in China that deserve the most attentions due to its uniqueness and cultural importance. Around one hundred thousand people from 150 villages live inside this reserve with an average elevation of 2,800 meters. "Han" people were the majority group in this area. There were two ethnic minorities, "Zang" and "Hui", which were Baishuijiang Tibetan and Muslim respectively. Villagers lived in a poor situation with 1,131 RMB annual per capita income, which was less than US$200 annually, and natural resources were significant for their livelihoods due to the remoteness and underdevelopment of the Baishuijiang region. It is moist and rainy in summer and cold in winter in Baishuijiang Reserve because it is situated at the transitional zone between temperate zone and subtropical zone. [3]

Tenure arrangements

Quoting from Diqiiang’s article in 2012, “Protected area in China [for example, Baishuijiang Natural Reserve] may include both state-owned and community-owned land.” The forests in Baihuijiang National Natural Reserve are constituted of half state-owned and half collective lands. 50% area of Baishuijiang Natural Reserve is state-owned forest that is strictly managed by Baishuijiang National Reserve Management Bureau (BNNRMB). “BNNRMB is affiliated to the State Forestry Administration of China. local communities exploiting woods or utilizing lands are strictly prohibited in state-owned forest, and this forest is only for conservation purpose.[1]

The other half is collective forest that belongs to local communities for firewood collection for subsistence or generating incomes. More than 80% of the collective forest has been divided into smaller pieces that are held or managed by individuals or households. Notably, a small percentage of the collective forest is used for common use. This common area is only observed in Diebuzhai community, which is one of the four committees created by BNNRMB. (Diebuzhai Community is a "Zang" Tibetan village where 32 Tibetan households and two "Han" households live.) Villagers hold access, withdrawal and exclusion rights, but they do not have selling or leasing rights before 2008. In other words, quoting from Ting's article, “they are users but not owners of the collective forest”. Although there are two types of forests, the boundaries between state-owned and collective forests or between households in collective forests are clearly defined.[1] Clear definition can greatly increase the efficiency of management for both BNNRMB and village committees and decrease the potential conflicts between them.

Administrative arrangements

The reserve was divided into three areas: the testing area, the buffer area and the core area with the area of 100,310 hectares, 26,032 hectares and 97,329 hectares respectively. Most people were living in the testing area, and “only limited agriculture and subsistence hunting are permitted in this area”. Commercial activities were prohibited in buffer area, and nobody could access to the core area without an official permission.[1] In my opinion, the core area was the state-owned forest, and the testing area was the collective forest. Restricted agricultural and subsistence activities for local residents in the collective forest controlled by national conservation laws and policies means that villagers would not have as much access to their collective forest to extract natural resources as they previously had. Moreover, their income from their collective forests were affected by the conservation policies. A quote from Chen’s article, “They [officers from BNNRMB] considered only the influence of local community residents on natural resource conservation, with little or no consideration of the impact these laws and regulations would have on the livelihood of local communities”. [3]

In the context of the conflicts between social needs for local villagers and conservation goals for the country, a new type of forest management was introduced in 2003 called Community-Based Co-Management (CBCM) by BNNRMB. There were other alternatives like “community based management” and “co-management” at the time, but, quoting from Chen’s article, “in China it is difficult to build an equal partnership between the central government and local communities”. To put it simply, THE CBCM projects were the combination of co-management and community-based management, and the CBCM is “people-centered, community-oriented, resource-focused and partnership-based” (cited in the article) [3]

Four CBCM committees are founded in Baishuijiang National Natural Reserve (Yangashan, Diebuzhai, Caoheba and Liziba committees), and the members of each committee are selected from local villagers, officers of BNNRMB, NGOs and researchers from academic institutions. Four committees are responsible to their own village in a sustainable way and play roles as coordinators, organizers and managers. Other stakeholders like officers from BNNRMB and NGOs are to take charge of technology and funding. Villagers have rights to submit an altered proposal for operational rules in a more realistic and applicable way if the villagers reach the consensus, and the CBCM committees hold conferences quarterly for the villagers to solve any kinds of conflicts among them and gather opinions and suggestions. the CBCM committee members are also responsible for monitoring illegal forest use in state-owned forest or others’ collective forests and report them to the BNNRMB. Once the illegal loggings are being recognized, the corresponding punishment will be applied. [1]

The “Collective Forest Tenure Reform” was brought up in 2008 by the central government to issue up-to-70 years forest land use licenses to villagers and allow licenses transfer and loan. The Reform was to resolve unclarified and controversial tenure problems, inexplicit management bodies, inflexible regulation system and irrational distribution system.[4] Yang et al also mentioned in their article that this reform allowed commercial logging, firewood collection, tourism and “eco-compensation” that had been prohibited previously to generate a faster economic growth in local area.[5]

However, “the reform has not yet been implemented in provinces with giant pandas [where Baishuijiang National Natural Reserve belong] [in 2015, which was 7 years after the reform came into being]”. In my opinion, it is because of the hysteresis of politics. Therefore, this reform will not be discussed in this article.

Affected Stakeholders

Local villagers are constituted of three ethnical groups: “Han”, “Zang” and “Hui” people. All of them are affected stakeholders. They are not being treated differently in terms of land use and other activities due to their races. All of them need to collect firewood for subsistence from collective forests. However, because of the low population of “Zang” and “Hui” people, “Minorities and indigenous people [“Hui” and “Zang” in Baishuijiang National Natural Reserve] are being marginalized in the implementation of the CBCM projects and local decision-making process”.[6] “Zang” and “Hui” do not have a say in the stakeholders by being treated “silent” and “invisible”. Therefore, they have the lowest power in the decision-making process and reporting system.

Affected Stakeholders Relevant Objectives Relative Power
"Han" (Majority group) Villagers in Baihuijiang Reserve; Have a say in stakeholder conferences; Their incomes are greatly affected by the logging ban Medium
"Zang" (Ethnic Minority: Tibetan) Same as "Han" except that they do not have a say in stakeholders Low
"Hui" (Ethnic Minority: Muslim) Same as "Zang" Low

Interested Outside Stakeholders

BNNRMB, NGOs and local and international enterprises are the interested stakeholders. BNNRMB has the highest power because it is the entity that generated the CBCM, hold conference meetings and received annual reports from committees. NGOs have median power relation because they have representatives in the committees, and they are in charge of projects funding. Enterprises have the lowest power because they do not participate in the committees.

Interested Stakeholders Relevant Objectives Relative Power
BNNRMB Management bureau of the state-owned forest; Directed affiliated to the State Forestry Administration of China; Creator and committee members of THE CBCM projects in collective forests; responsible for punishing illegal logging; High
NGOs Aim for conservation, protecting giant pandas, livelihood diversity or economic growth for villagers; members and fundraisers of the CBCM committee Medium
Enterprises (e.g. Carrefour) Participating in local natural resources extraction like collecting bees, mushroom, organic vegetables, herbs etc with the support of NGOs. Low

Discussion

The creation of the CBCM projects was based on the long-term conflicts between locally social goals and nationally conservation goals. There was a decreasing net income tendency on local villagers after the implementation of the “Six Key Forestry Programs” because these policies either banned or restricted logging activities. Decision-makers of the environmental policies, in this case, BNNRMB, failed to integrate the local needs into practice and only consider local activities as negative influences. Local villagers had more eager than before to generate better livelihoods especially when urban residents had become richer and richer after Chinese Economic Reform in 1978. Poorer people in rural settings relied more on the extraction of natural resources while the conservation programs often simply ban local people from accessing to the forests. These programs have significantly negative impacts on rural residents’ livelihoods due to less revenue from forests. The failure of integrating rural residents into account would force villagers going backwards to former, illegal and unregulated collecting and logging activities in the absence of long-term incentives, which was against the willingness of protecting the ecosystem.[7] A quote from Chen et al’s article [3] summarized this problem; it said that “the increasing desire of improving livelihoods and incomes for local communities generated a threat to local natural reserves”. It was difficult for decision-makers to come up with a system to protect forests and biodiversity while ensuring the local people’s livelihoods.

Another problem was the social unfairness and conflicts between villagers who live in the forest-edge small towns and urban citizens in terms of revenue, welfare system, education and compensation mechanism. For example, rural residents received an average of only 23.4% of China’s total social welfare expenditures, whereas urban residents received the remaining 76.4% of these expenditures, given the fact that rural people occupied almost 70% population of China. [7]

To solve these social problems and conflicts, Community-Based Co-Management was introduced. One of the great benefits of the CBCM was “the transfer of both the control of, and responsibility for, natural resources from the state to community levels (Bond, 2006). According to Chen’s article in 2013, “local villagers collaborate with government and NGOs on decisions about forest management and participate in programs designed to improve livelihoods while sustaining natural resources”. The CBCM projects aim to “build a relatively equal partnership between the central government and local communities and integrate different stakeholders at different levels”. [6] An easy way to explain the meaning of introducing the CBCM to the Reserve is that, centered government-led conservation management failed, from the perspective of local villagers, because this "in situ" conservation is effective in the sense of protecting the giant pandas and ecosystem at the cost of local people's livelihoods and incomes. Decentralization will give villagers certain decision-making power to provide realistic and meaningful ideas and inputs. [8]

The CBCM program was effective to some degrees. Questionnaires in terms of personal information, household livelihood data, the quality of relationship among neighbors, forest condition and participation conditions in the CBCM were collected in 2006 and 2010 respectively from 200 random respondents who were either from Baimahe or Bikou protection stations inside Baishuijiang National Natural Reserve in the experiment of Chen’s article in 2012. The results showed that the CBCM projects were proven effective by increasing local citizens’ life quality from 2006 to 2010. Villagers generally adopted substitutional methods like “firewood-saving cooking stoves” and “marsh gas pools” and tended to choose a more sustainable way to consume forest resources with the help of the NGOs and the BNNRMB. Between 2006 to 2010, the data from Ting’s article showed that three communities, except Liziba village, increased their amount of livestock breeding by more than 50%. That meant that villagers had been depended less on forest resources and focused more on other income products. [1]

Although the CBCM seems successful, it still has flaws. The biggest problem was that the CBCM was still a policy that had no legal status. That meant the submission of proposal from the CBCM committees and villagers would be interrupted easily due to the lack of policy support. For example, there would be vague boundaries between viable and inapplicable proposals, and officers from NBBRBM could decide whether approving or not by their experiences or feelings, which could be biased. Secondly, the CBCM focused more on short-term projects that could receive the economic outcomes shortly. the CBCM projects were mainly funded by external NGOs and central government while the operational rule and sustainable mechanisms were not quite formed and organized.[1] Conservation goals are not the same to, but often contradictory with social needs. As I mentioned above about the conflicts between conservation and social goals during “Six Key Forestry Programs” era that decision makers focusing on conservation goals would have greatly negative impacts on local people. In fact, short-term projects generated by the CBCM would not be eliminated this conflict if conservation goals were being ignored. Conservation goals and social needs are difficult to balance. Focusing on conservation would hurt villagers' livelihoods while concentrating on social goals often lead to the decline of the ecosystem. For example, tea making program in Liziba that was generated by NGOs increased villagers income, and it was environmental friendly. It certainly was a great income source, and was encouraged by the committees, but it did not mean villagers could enlarge the tea land as large as they could because conservation policy was the most significant long-term project. Lastly, the CBCM would easily failed if the bottom-up information transformation was blocked and conflict-resolution mechanism was not in place. [9]CBCM committee in Diebuzhai is the example due to the ignorance of Tibetan traditional culture and received many complaints.

Chen also mentioned in 2012 that it was been observed that there was no compensation system for villagers who had suffered from animals’ intrusion, e.g. wild boar. This was essential because, without a proper solution, animals’ intrusion would worsen the relationship between conservation and social needs and affect people's income indirectly. It was also observed that only villagers in Liziba community expressed their opinion and suggestions to the committee and refused committee’s plan when they thought the plan was not realistic. However, other villagers would do what their CBCM committees plan to do without too much subjective initiates. That was a regret that they did not use the right they had. Another problem Chen et al brought up was that minorities and indigenous people (“Hui” and “Zang”) and women are “being marginalized in the implementation of the CBCM projects and local decision-making process”. [3]

Assessment

Affected stakeholders:

Local villagers have higher political power after the implementation of the CBCM projects. They have certain proportions of representatives in the committees and can express their opinions and suggestions to the government by submitting voted proposal through the committees.

“Han” ethnics, which takes up most of the whole population (90%), have a higher privilege than other ethnics. “Han” people have a medium power relation. Their needs are being concentrated because of the large population, and their voices are being heard. However, there are two other minorities and indigenous people (“Zang” and “Hui”) are being ignored. They tend to participate less to the CBCM project, compared to the “Han” people. They have low power relation because their voices remain unsound and, at the beginning of the implementation, "Zang" ethnics were being ignored by the program. In fact, lots of “Zang” people still reject to participate the CBCM projects.

Interested stakeholders:

NBBRMB officers are the representative of the State Forestry Administration of China and the entity that brought up the CBCM projects. They have high power relation because they not only are part of the CBCM committees but also receive the voted proposal from villagers through CBCM committees and have the rights to punish the illegal logging violators.

NGOs including the Global Environment Foundation (GEF), World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Oxfam of Hong Kong (OHK), Beijing Shan Shui Conservation Center (BSSCC), Conservation International (CI) and the Ford Foundation (FF) have medium power relations. NGOs have a say in the CBCM committees but no other power are being generated.

Enterprises, for example local companies and international enterprises like Carrefour, have low power relation in stakeholders. They are introduced in the reserve with the help of NGOs, and they do not have any representatives in the committees.[1]

Recommendations

For decision-makers from BNNRMB and NGOs:

[1] Legality. The biggest problem for the CBCM projects is that it is still not a coded, formal, written law; it is still an informal policy. Informal policy means that the whole system is fragile and can be wiped out or interrupted easily. If it is a law, the manual will be more detailed; the supervision mechanism will be more transparent. Therefore, the project will be more sustainable and efficient.

[2] Rural insurance system. In this study area of Chen’s article,[3] most farmers usually do not have spare cash to see doctors. To fundamentally improve the health status of residents in local communities, a rural health insurance system must be put into practice. It is also important to address the shortage of doctors, the condition and equipping of medical facilities, and finding ways to secure consistent funding for rural medical stations in the long term. In fact, not just welfare problems, social unfairness, animals’ intrusion, unfair resources and income distribution problem are also urged to be solved. A well-defined compensation system can not only generate rural residents’ livelihoods but also mitigate the social problems and decrease the huge welfare gap between rural and urban residents.

[3] 3 out of 4 villagers in Baishuijiang National Natural Reserve underestimated their stakeholder power and tend to simply follow the decision of CBCM committees without too much subjective initiative. BNNRMB and NGOs could provide more training to villagers and let them realize that they could contribute more to the decision-making processes. [6]

[4] women and minority ethnics ("Zang" and "Hui") participate much less to the project, compared to "Han" and males, and their voices remain unheard. Decision makers should focus more on "Hui" and "Zang"'s social needs, traditional cultures, unique languages and women's households responsibilities and encourage them to join the committees.

[5] Encourage enterprises to join and generate local economy, employment and training. As I mentioned above, social unfairness are becoming a serious problem in China. solving local subsistence and employment problems will mitigate social unfairness greatly.

The main idea of these recommendations is to mitigate the potential influences local people have upon surrounding forests by increasing the local economy and local people's subsistence. The relationship between conservation goals and local people's economic well-being is complex but important. Policies simply banning people from collecting firewood often backfire because firewood and other forest products are important sources for subsistence. Poorer villagers depend significantly more on natural resources than urban people, and a well-defined policy would greatly mitigate this conflict.

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 Ting, Z., Shivakoti, G. P., Haiyun, C., & Maddox, D. (2012). A survey-based evaluation of community-based co-management of forest resources: A case study of Baishuijiang National Natural Reserve in China. Environment, Development and Sustainability, 14(2), 197–220. doi.org/10.1007/s10668-011-9316-6
  2. Diqiang, L., Jianhua, Z., Ke, D., Bo, W., & Chunquan, Z. (2003). Management Effectiveness Assesment of Protected Areas in the Upper Yangtze Ecoregion using WWF’s RAPPAM Methodology.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Chen, H., Shivakoti, G., Zhu, T., & Maddox, D. (2012). Livelihood sustainability and community based co-management of forest resources in China: Changes and improvement. Environmental Management, 49(1), 219–228. doi.org/10.1007/s00267-011-9775-4
  4. Lei, Z. (n.d.). Collective Forest Tenure System Reform in China. Retrieved October 23, 2017, from http://rightsandresources.org/wp-content/exported-pdf/zhanglei.pdf
  5. Yang, B., Busch, J., Zhang, L., Ran, J., Gu, X., Zhang, W., … Mittermeier, R. A. (2015). China’s Collective Forest Tenure Reform and the Future of the Giant Panda. Conservation Letters, 8(4), 251–261. https://doi.org/10.1111/conl.12143
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Chen, H., Zhu, T., Krott, M., & Maddox, D. (2013). Community forestry management and livelihood development in northwest China: Integration of governance, project design, and community participation. Regional Environmental Change, 13(1), 67–75. doi.org/10.1007/s10113-012-0316-3
  7. 7.0 7.1 Cao, S. Li, C, Zhu, Q. (2009). Remembering the Goal of Environmental Protection: Including Protection of Impoverished Citizens in China’s Environmental Policy. International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education, 7(3), 301–318. doi.org/10.1007/s
  8. Bond, I., Davis, A., Nott, C., Nott, K., & Stuart-Hill, G. (2006). Community based natural resource management manual WWF. Wildlife Management Series, 77.
  9. WWF. (2006). Species and People: inked Futures, 80. Retrieved from http://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/how_we_work/conservation/species_programme/species_people/


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