A new study from the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), Kunming Institute of Botany (KIB), Princeton University, and Sun Yat-sen University suggests that paying rural communities could give incentives to protect and restore native forests on private lands. China has dedicated its efforts to restore forests that have been cut down to build plantations, but little progress has been seen. In an attempt to change this, the study recommends looking from a new perspective.
"Land collectively owned by rural communities accounts for 60% of China's forest land and the vast majority of China's newly-established forest cover," said Fangyuan Hua, lead author of the study. Collective forest land (CFL)—land owned by rural households/communities—also holds roughly half of China’s remaining native forests.
Hua continues, "However, existing forest policies largely neglect collectively-owned lands and provide no mechanism for restoring native forests on them." That’s why native forests are still being cut, even though the numbers show that China’s total forest cover has risen in the last 20 years.
The study, published in Conservation Letters, says that the existing compensation schemes do not take into account factors of biodiversity and ecosystem health. Currently, most compensation schemes in China only consider the simple metric of forest cover, not the biodiversity. Unfortunately, that means that the incentive is on the farmer to reforest larger swaths of monoculture tree cover even though restoring the biodiversity of tree species would have a higher value for an ecosystem as a whole. The authors of the study say this is what the compensation schemes should take into account, and this is what must change in order to make real progress with reforestation.
“Rectifying these deficiencies requires that China's management approach toward CFL forests recognize the value of forests, especially native forests, for things other than tree crop production,” writes the study.
The study points towards the Mechanism of Compensation for Ecological Protection (MCEP) to fix this. This policy is still being designed and has the potential to make much-needed changes in China’s compensation schemes. "The MCEP offers a chance for the Chinese government to establish effective, socially just compensation standards for native forest restoration," said Hua. "Rural communities would receive badly-needed income, while benefits such as improved soil health, greater biodiversity, and reduced erosion would benefit society as a whole. China should not let this opportunity slip away."