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CHINA is now the world’s number one in terms of the artificial forest area.

China’s achievements in forest protection

ON October 6, President Lungu held a meeting at State House with heads of missions accredited to the country and I was among them.
After the formal part, the President mingled with the ambassadors, high commissioners and others, and I was fortunate to have a chat with him.
Among the things we talked about was the protection of forests, an issue the entire world is faced with and many people are concerned about. People are concerned about the excessive logging which leads to an acceleration of deforestation.
Luckily, I had just learnt from a report a few days ago that China’s forest area increased in the last 25years, a result achieved by the Chinese government and people through years of strenuous efforts.
I shared this piece of information with the President and he was very interested.
Back at the embassy, I checked again on the website and discovered the information originated from the World Bank’s 2016 Edition of World Development Figure.
According to the data provided by the World Bank, mankind has lost 1,300,000 square kilometers of forest, or the equivalent of the size of South Africa in the last 25 years, and deforestation was concentrated in Latin America and Sub-Sahara Africa, with logging for wood, paper products, and farm land use as being the main causes.
The forest coverage in Asia and Europe however has expanded with China gaining 511,800 square kilometres of new forest, the largest increase among all countries of the world.
This impressive achievement could be attributed to several important measures taken by the Chinese government.
Thirty years ago, in the early years of China opening to the world, the Chinese government, as I remember, saw the massive damage to the country’s natural environment caused by the indiscriminate logging of forests and realised the importance of forest protection and tree planting. As a result, the central government, after serious deliberation on February 23, 1979, declared March 12 as the Day of Tree Planting.
From then on, the national leaders of China would take the lead in planting trees on March 12 every year.
Following their lead, people throughout the country, old and young, men and women, would all take part in the day’s activities and plant their own trees.
Thirty years past, the trees planted have grown up and helped the country not only restore but also expand its forest coverage.
In 1999, the Chinese government decided to embark on a project called “Return the Reclaimed Land to Forest”.
That was a bold decision on the part of the central government because for years, the biggest concern of the government was to provide enough food and enough cloth for the people.
To achieve that, it was inevitable to grow more food crops and cotton which in turn need a continued expansion of farm land. The consequence was that much of the forest land had been turned into crop land, and the forest area dwindled continuously.
The implementation of the project of “Return the Reclaimed Land to Forest” completely reversed that trend, the forest area not only stopped to decrease, but started to expand year by year.
Of course, in the course of implementing the project, the central government provided necessary financial support to the farmers so that they had enough incentive to carry out the project.
In fact, the farmers, by planting trees with economic value such as different types of fruit and wood trees, have enjoyed a big increase in their personal as well as family incomes.
At the same time, the central government also actively encourages people in the containment of land desertification and has achieved commendable result.
China’s north has a vast desert land, which was for many years expanding quickly without any measures to stop it, and the situation was exacerbated by excessive and uncontrolled logging.
Every spring, Beijing would suffer a number of severe fits of sandstorm attacks.
To contain the land desertification, the Chinese government invested heavily in the planting of forest belts in the 1960s and 1970s and achieved considerable effect in the prevention of sandstorms.
However, what produced real effect was to deal with the challenge of desertification head on by growing a large number of plants suitable for the sand right in the desert, supported by a modernised irrigation system. By doing so, China managed to reduce its desert land by 1,717 square kilometers, which was a remarkable achievement in five years from 2005 to 2009.
To monitor the forest growth, China conducts a forest resource survey once every few years.
In February, 2014, the results of the 8th or the latest such surveys were made public.
Compared with the results of the 7th survey (2004-2008), it is easy to discover the following progress China had made in the protection of the forest land.
Firstly, the country’s total forest area continued to grow. It went up from 195 million hectares to 208 million hectares or from 20.36 percent to 21.63 percent of China’s total land area.
Secondly, natural forests continued to expand steadily with an increase from the original 119.69 million hectares to 121.84 million hectares.
Thirdly, artificial forests grew rapidly from the original 61.69 million hectares to 69.33 million hectares.
China is now the world’s number one in terms of the artificial forest area.
Thanks to the importance the Chinese government has attached and the strenuous efforts the Chinese people have rendered, China’s forest area has seen for the first time a trend of expansion.
Currently, China is implementing its 13th five year plan, with green development as one of its most important goals.
It could be expected that the Chinese government will continue to expand its investment in the protection of forest, and the country will become even greener in the next five years.
(The author is Chinese Ambassador to Zambia)