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Tropentag, October 5 - 7, 2004 in Berlin

"Rural Poverty Reduction
through Research for Development and Transformation"

Traversing the Course for Collective Forestry in Southwest China a View from Yunnan Province

Horst Weyerhaeuser, Fredrich Kahrl, Su Yufang

World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), China


More than twenty-five years since the advent of sweeping economic reforms, forest policy in China continues to face two primary investment challenges. The first, increasing government and private investment in forest production, is necessitated by an enormous discrepancy between China's supply of and demand for forest products, as well as by the substantial role that forests must play in the development of the country's rural areas. The second, increasing government and private investment in forest-based environmental services, is a response to a deteriorating forest resource base, particularly in the ecologically sensitive upland watersheds of the China's Southwest. These competing needs to commercialise and conserve have created an as yet unresolved incongruity between productive and environmental forestry. At the heart of this tension are the country's collective forests and their owners ‰ predominantly villages.

Since forestry reforms in the early 1980s, more than half of China's forests have been collectively, as opposed to state, owned. Although reforms, begun in 1983 and modeled on similar reforms in agriculture, were intended to decentralise management for collectively-owned forestland and barren lands to individual households, a significant portion of China's forests remain collectively managed. In other areas, forest management that was devolved to individual households, owing to the prohibitively high operational costs of managing smaller, often non-contiguous plots, has been returned to some form of collective management (Liu, 2001).

As the efficiency drawbacks to individualised, fragmented forest management begin to become more apparent (Schwarzwalder et al., 2001), China will be forced, either implicitly or explicitly, to choose among social models for forestry ‰ ranging from larger, corporately held plots to smaller-scale forms of community-based management. Equity implications notwithstanding, in ecologically significant areas, such as the country's mountainous Southwest, small-scale collective forest management can provide more reliable and redundant biodiversity and watershed services than large-scale corporate forestry. There is a continued role for collective forestry alongside state forestry in China's Southwest, and the appropriate question is thus not whether but how local villages can manage forests for specific regional environmental services. As argued here, the success of collective forestry in Southwest China will ultimately be determined by continued investment in local institutional reforms, changes in extension services to support small-scale forestry, commitment to more effective multi-scale governance, and overarching policy support to collective forestry.

This analysis explores the prominence of these four themes ‰ village institutions, line agency support, multi-scale governance, and policy backing ‰ in collective forestry in four villages in Southwest China's Yunnan Province, drawing on evidence from other

Keywords: China, collective forestry

Contact Address: Horst Weyerhaeuser, World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), c/o CBIK, Floor 3, Building A, Zhonghuandasha, Yanjiadi, 650034 Kunming, China, e-mail: horst@loxinfo.co.th

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