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September 17, 2009

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Farms reap gains from forest drive

CAO Zhong now often says he is "rich" compared to 10 years ago, when farming his patch of hillside land barely filled his stomach.

To his joy, farming is not as burdensome as before. Cao, 32, from arid Gansu Province in northwest China, has turned half of his land to forestry.

Millions of farmers have done likewise, benefiting from the national "returning farming land to forestry" campaign.

The campaign brings Cao a government subsidy of 2,560 yuan (US$375) for reforestation of 1.07 hectares of farmland, along with a 1,000-yuan-plus yield from foraging on the land every year.

With less land, Cao can now spend several months in a year working as a painter in the provincial capital of Lanzhou, earning at least 7,000 yuan.

"Now we have green hills and more income," said Cao.

The per capita income of local farmers in Cao's hometown of Dingxi, one of the most drought-prone regions in Gansu, had nearly doubled from 1,180 yuan in 1999, when the reforestation campaign was introduced, said the local poverty alleviation office.

Statistics from the Gansu Provincial Forestry Department show 1.66 million rural households received an average subsidy of 6,200 yuan in 2008, while the number of farmers working in cities had grown 13 times.

Gansu was one of the first three provinces to launch forestation projects in 1999.

A total of 1.73 million hectares of land in Gansu is involved in the reforestation campaign, which is expected to drive forest coverage up by 3.7 percentage points from 13.42 percent at the end of 2006, according to Wang Weiguo, a forestry department official in charge of reforestation.

In areas where the campaign is conducted there is now less severe soil erosion, fewer sand storms and growing biodiversity.

China has spent nearly 1 trillion yuan on conservation and environmental protection in the past decade.

In neighboring Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, local residents have been encouraged to grow fruit trees to ward off sand storms and increase their income.

Farmers in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region plant herbs to combat desertification.


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