How China succeeded in addressing rural poverty through community forestry in Zhejiang province

On 2-8 December 2014, RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests hosted “Application of Community Forestry in Rural Forestry Reform: China’s Experience,” a community forestry champions network regional workshop held in Lin’an Zhejiang Province, China. Marlo D. Mendoza, Assistant Professor at the Department of Social Forestry and Forest Governance and Associate Dean of the College of Forestry and Natural Resources at the University of the Philippines Los Baños, reflects on the positive land tenure reform made in Lin’an.

I am very thankful that I was one of the participants in the RECOFTC’s workshop: “Application of Community Forestry in Rural Forestry Reform: China’s Experience.” Those working in the forestry sector are aware of the role that forest landscapes play in national development, especially in poverty reduction. Secure tenure rights and equitable access to resources by people living in and around forest areas play an essential role in addressing rural poverty, which in turn benefits sustainable forest management: rural poor will manage forests sustainably if their livelihoods are ensured.

And what I saw in Lin’an, China was exactly that: a successful working model based on the villagers having both tenure and access rights to their resource, as well as flexibility in how to use them. Through interviews with villagers, local government officials, members of farmers’ cooperatives and private business owners, I learned that the principles of FAO’s Voluntary Guidelines on the Governance of Tenure (VGGT) were vigorously pursued.

The Chinese government specifically instituted various policy and institutional reforms to help motivate the farmers to productively manage their land: land-use rights certificates, responsive extension services, livelihood support services, insurance coverage and  the securitization of land resource assets, among other key innovations. These reforms, moreover, were supported by the private sector, all branches and levels of government, particularly the local government, as well as all stakeholders involved. The forestry bureau was also redirected and retooled and its role was expanded to respond to the new land tenure policy conditions.

The positive outcome of the tenure reforms was amazing to see. The villagers’ ability to benefit from their resources was greatly enhanced by the possibility of raising loans based on the projected value of those resources. By receiving loans, the villagers can in turn improve the productivity of their resources by investing the loans into improving their resources. Prior to the land tenure reform, the state and village-owned lands were unproductive and degraded; but following the reforms, they were transformed into productive and profitable micro and small-scale agroforestry enterprises.

With the new wealth created by the rural population, the local economy significantly improved, creating jobs and allowing Lin’an to invest in other critical infrastructure and support services to encourage further investment in the community by the private sector. This, moreover, created further downstream opportunities and economic growth on a much larger scale: the establishment of several forest-based industries such as bamboo shoot processing, nut processing, furniture-making from wood and bamboo, and most notably, the China Roasted Nuts Food Mall, a multibillion yen, multi-use complex providing services to the growing Lin’an nut industry.

Secure tenure rights and equitable access to  forest resources supported by all branches and levels of government helped villagers make the most from their resources. Effective tenure governance reform should not only be limited to Lin’an, however. We should push such reform not only in my home country, the Philippines, but also across the Asia-Pacific region.

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