Home >Latest

Xi Focus-Closeup: A root-and-branch reform for mountainous woodlands

Xinhua | Updated: 2023-06-06


An aerial view of Changkou village in Sanming, Fujian province. [Photo/China Daily]

Li Guilin, a farmer in East China's Fujian province, has carefully preserved his forestry ownership certificate throughout the years. The certificate, the first of its kind in China, was issued over 20 years ago.

For Li, the certificate means that the forestland concerned is at his disposal and he has the right to benefit from it. "The mountains are still there, but now they belong to us. We feel much assured," Li said.

The issuance of this certificate marked a groundbreaking reform that held profound significance for millions of farmers like Li.

Although Fujian is a province rich in forest resources, many farmers there used to lead a hard life due to unclear ownership of the green mountains outside their doors.

Zhang Linshun, then a village official in Changkou in Fujian's Sanming city, recalls a time in the 1990s when his village was devoid of concrete roads, adequate housing, and functional streetlamps. The economic conditions were modest, with the annual per capita income reaching about 2,000 yuan (about $242).

The issue caught the attention of Xi Jinping, who was then a provincial official in Fujian. Between 1996 and 2002, Xi made 11 visits to Sanming for fact-finding research and studies, traveling to all 12 county-level regions in Sanming and visiting 62 towns and villages.

During his visit to Zhang's village in 1997, Xi encountered a contentious debate among the locals regarding the potential logging of trees for financial gain.

To resolve the issue, Xi engaged in a talk with the villagers. "He asked very detailed questions, like 'what are the sources for the village's revenues,' 'how much you earn each year,' and about our future plans," Zhang recalled.

Looking at the scenic beauty of the village, Xi told the villagers "green mountains and clear waters are priceless treasure."

During his visit to another village in Sanming, Xi stressed the importance of not only prioritizing ecological considerations but also recognizing forestry resources as a viable industry that can generate economic benefits for farmers.

"Xi often conducted research in the forestry areas, and fully understood the difficulties faced by the province as well as people's expectations, which strengthened his resolve to promote the reform," said Huang Jianxing, then head of the forestry bureau in Fujian.

Based on the learnings from the research and study tours, Xi decided to launch a reform to address the unclear forest tenure and other relevant institutional and structural problems.

"We carried out extensive research and full analyses on four key problems -- how to distribute forestland; how to plan for logging; how to make the necessary funds available to farmers and how to integrate scattered pieces of forestland operated by individual households," Xi once said when reflecting on the initial stages of the reform.

At that time, the reform was a risky move, as the central authorities had once suspended the contracting of hills to households due to destructive logging in some areas in the 1980s. About 20 years on, people were uncertain whether the policy could be resumed.

However, after careful consideration, Xi concluded that since forest tenure concerned the people's immediate interests, problems should be addressed as early as possible. Also, as long as there is a sensible policy adopted with effective methods, relevant risks could be mitigated.

The reform was first piloted in Li's village in Sanming's Wuping County under which farmers could be allocated land on the basis of a contract and were entitled to any surpluses to the market or retain them for their own use. Xi, then governor of Fujian, later endorsed the policy during his visit to the village in 2002. "The reform of the forestry system is on the right track. It should be advanced in a down-to-earth way to better benefit the people," he said.

In 2008, the central authorities included all of Fujian's experience and initiated the nationwide reform of collective forest tenure. Since then, with new rounds of policies introduced, collective forest tenure reform has been consistently deepened.

Today, experts draw parallels between this reform and the household contract responsibility system implemented in the early stages of reform and opening up, recognizing its profound historic significance for farmers residing in mountainous and forest regions.

In Zhang's village, the per capita income of villagers rose to 30,000 yuan in 2022, up more than 12 times from that in 1997. The annual revenue of the village reached 1.85 million yuan, increasing more than 60-fold from about 25 years ago.

In 2021, Xi, as the country's top leader, again visited Sanming. When reviewing the progress of the forestry reform at a rural property rights transaction center, Xi said Sanming is an important birthplace of such reforms, underlining the importance of "combining top-level design with grassroots exploration in pushing forward reforms."

1 2 3 4 5 6 7