Learning through collaboration Building on data from China’s monitoring of the world’s largest afforestation program

Catastrophic flooding along China’s Yellow and Yangtze rivers in 1998 catalyzed the launch of a national afforestation effort of huge proportions. Now in its 15th year, the Conversion of Cropland to Forests Program (CCFP) is the world’s largest afforestation and environmental compensation program.

In exchange for farmers’ giving up agricultural activities to plant and take care of new forestland, the CCFP sends cash subsidies directly to their bank accounts. More than 32 million rural households are directly involved or participating, with over 27 million hectares of land replanted and USD 42 billion invested up until 2013.

We think after our one year’s cooperation with CIFOR, we have done some profound research…We can find out the relationship between environmental outcomes and livelihoods.

Xie Chen
FEDRC, State Forestry Administration, China

The Conversion of Cropland to Forests Program (CCFP)
With such a vast area replanted across China, assessing whether the program is delivering on its socioeconomic and environmental goals – and how it could be improved – is very important, which is why the Chinese government set up a national monitoring network from the beginning of the program.

Now, CIFOR’s Louis Putzel and Nick Hogarth have teamed up with China’s National Forest Economics and Development Research Center (FEDRC), the think-tank responsible for annual monitoring and evaluation of the CCFP, to explore the data in-depth and see how much it corresponds to realities on the ground in four provinces of southwest China.

Enriching data
The FEDRC’s main monitoring tool is a nation-wide survey, administered to the same 1165 households across 22 provinces every year. With recommendations from CIFOR and associates, new questions about land use and tree-planting and the role of local institutions were added to the 2014 survey. This extra data will help evaluate the impacts of the program and provide information to help improve the CCFP in the future.

Finding meaning in data
Analyzing data from another nationwide survey, CIFOR collaborated with partners to identify local factors that increased the reported survival rates of planted trees, including:

  • availability of people and time to manage the trees
  • farmers’ previous experience in forestry
  • less competition from other opportunities to earn money from the land
  • consultation with farmers before the program was implemented locally
  • monitoring by officials on a regular basis.

Given the FEDRC’s key responsibility to advise the State Forestry Administration on the government’s forestry programs, findings such as these present an opportunity to contribute to China’s forestry policies, which have huge implications for hundreds of millions of people within China and across the globe.

The scale and magnitude of the CCFP is astounding…Being a part of such a big and important project is humbling, and the potential impact on such a large number of people and land area is exciting.

Nick Hogarth
CIFOR Scientist

Related publication

China's Conversion of Cropland to Forests Program (CCFP) is the world's largest afforestation-based Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) program, having retired and afforested over 24 million ha involving 32 million rural households. Prior research has primarily focused on the CCFP's rural welfare impacts, with few studies on program-induced environmental improvements, particularly at the household level.