Healthy Forests, Happy Communities
Communities in southwestern China are safeguarding local forests and reaping the benefits.
Reforestation Project Bears Fruit for Local Communities
In Tengchong County, Yunnan Province, the economics are changing in favor of the environment.
Thanks to a Conservancy-supported reforestation project that’s become the world’s first to meet the Climate, Community and Biodiversity (CCB) gold standard, Chinese families are finding that nature has new value.
Here, in a region that’s historically been one of China’s lushest, environmental and human interests have fallen out of alignment. By placing a cash value on the greenhouse gas emissions that new forests keep from escaping, the Tengchong reforestation project is restoring a healthy balance between people and nature. It’s regenerating depleted forests, fighting climate change and creating economic opportunities for families that badly need them.
“This is the first time I’ve received payment for maintaining a standing forest instead of selling wood,” says local resident Li Minghu.
Jietou—a village in Tengchong County—is not an easy place to live. Far from Yunnan’s biggest cities and centers of commerce, most residents here earn a subsistence living from hardscrabble agricultural operations. Recent droughts have made conditions even tougher and worsened poverty in an area already stricken by it.
Harsh realities like these make environmental protection a luxury. It’s not that communities like Jietou don’t see the value in nature; it’s that they rely directly on harvesting value for survival. When it comes down to chopping trees down for firewood or watching your family struggle to meet their basic needs, the mathematics become very simple.
The Tengchong reforestation project, which began in 2005, changes that equation. By protecting 460 hectares (1,150 acres) of newly planted forest, communities are earning cash for conserving.
Earning from Environmentalism
Take Li Shenghua, for example. A farmer who raises pigs and chickens, Mr. Li lives in Jietou with his family. The advent of the Tengchong project has given him 3 acres of forest to look after.
In return, Mr. Li gets 2150 yuan (US$350) for the first five years, and those annual payments will continue flowing for the duration of the 30-year project. And many of the other Jietou families involved in the Tengchong reforestation work are looking after larger acreages and earning more for their stewardship.
In all, 1 million yuan ($160,000) is being distributed between 277 Tengchong households each year. And they’re earning that money for safeguarding forests that provide homes to gibbons, takin, giant rhododendrons and that are in the same region as the newly discovered Myanmar snub-nosed monkey.
Growth is Good
The funding for the Tengchong villagers’ efforts have emerged from the international battle against climate change. The Tengchong forests will sequester 150,000 tons of carbon dioxide over the next 25 years, generating carbon credits and therefore income for the local communities of conservationists growing up right next to the forests.
The Tengchong project is the first Conservancy-initiated reforestation project in China, but it’s led to similar efforts throughout Yunnan and in Sichuan Province. Collectively, we’re working to restore 14,000 hectares (34,600 acres) of some of the world’s great remaining temperate forests.
“We are thrilled to see one of China’s earliest forest carbon projects already delivering real benefits to local communities,” notes deputy China program director Ma Jian. “Lasting results will require local people to commit to protecting their natural resources, and we’re starting to see that in Tengchong.”