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Community forestry in Yunnan: the challenge for networks [Chinese]

Community forestry in Yunnan: the challenge for networks [Chinese]

China’s south-western province of Yunnan is a mountainous area of high biological
and cultural diversity that was annexed into China relatively late in Chinese history.
The province has lost over two thirds of its original forest cover and lost half of what
remained in the last fifty years. Ethnic minorities make up about a third of the
population of the province but predominate in forested areas. Chinese policy towards
‘minority nationalities’ at first recognized their right to self-determination but since
liberation has oscillated between assimilationist and integrationist approaches.
Despite strong central government control, the law grants them an important
measure of cultural and institutional autonomy at the local level. Nationally, forest
policy has been highly centralized and geared towards timber production. Quota
driven overharvesting has depleted forests and led to serious soil erosion, local
impoverishment, flooding and massive loss of life in the lowlands. While mass
afforestation efforts have disappointed. Since 1998, the government has banned
logging in Yunnan, allowing only a very restricted cut for domestic use. Imprudent
natural resource use is linked to the doctrine of State ownership of all lands and
forests and the imposed structure of village collectives. Since the late 1970s, the
government has progressively devolved land and then forests to local farmers to
manage and enjoy use rights to. Massive increases in agricultural production have
resulted, but the lesser degree of autonomy granted farmers with respect to forest
land, combined with the top-down quota system, inadequate supervision capacity,
poor delineation of forests and the slower rate of return on investment have frustrated
social forestry initiatives. Farmers’ skepticism that devolved tenure would really give
them rights over timber has been confirmed by the logging ban. At the same time,
in Yunnan, many upland farmers are being obliged to plant trees on their higher
fields, with the aim of limiting run-off. The simultaneous loss of grain for subsistence
and income from timber has hit farmers hard. The losses have not been made up
with subsidies and grain handouts. Local activists distinguish between the
government’s ‘social forestry’ and the ‘community forestry’ that has been promoted,
since the late 1980s, by the Ford Foundation, international development assistance
projects and the international networks, notably RECOFTC. Despite major advances
in awareness raising, training, the development of forestry school courses and
curricula, and despite numerous educational pilot projects, community forestry has
not yet ‘taken off’ in the province. This can only come when the central
government’s policy changes. Laws restricting civil society organizations are quite
strict in China, yet despite these limitations an incipient provincial level network has
evolved promoting participatory approaches to development. Efforts to promote a
national level community forestry network have been less successful. Although
Yunnan has had a relatively limited experience with international community forestry
networks, local actors provide highly insightful lessons and suggestions about how
such networking should be improved. International networking is valued as a source
of information and inspiration but should be made more interactive, locally driven and
strategic. The main challenges now facing community forestry in Yunnan are
achieving national policy reform, and building local capacity and awareness in both
communities and forestry bureaux. Recent government moves to allow village level
democracy and slim down the administration offer opportunities to give farmers
greater initiative. Perhaps minority areas, where indigenous forest related knowledge
is retained, and where more autonomy is, notionally, allowed, offer hopeful beginnings.

Authors: Colchester, M.

Topic: forest management,community forestry,forest resources,right of access,networking,government policy,China

Geographic: China

Pages: 28p.

Publisher: CIFOR, Bogor, Indonesia

Publication Year: 2004

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