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Eco-reform aids green initiative

By LI LEI in Arxan, Inner Mongolia and ZHOU HUIYING in Harbin | China Daily | Updated: 2020-09-07 07:11
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Sheep graze at Saihanba National Forest Park in Chengde, Hebei province. [Photo/Xinhua]

After logging ban, workers become rangers tapping potential of forest resources

Six years ago, a door slammed shut for Sun Xueshui and tens of thousands of other loggers and timber mill workers in northeastern China's Heilongjiang province.

For generations, they and their ancestors had felled and processed trees for meager wages among the Greater Hinggan Mountains in the forest-rich province, a stronghold of China's sprawling network of State-owned forest farms.

However, the province banned commercial logging in natural forests in 2014 in an attempt to find a greener path for forest farms, which include both natural forests and plantations.

Shortly after the ban was introduced, the Qianshao Forest Farm, Sun's employer, opened another door for its workers.

It refrained from sacking them, despite the massive loss of timber revenue, and instead shifted Sun and his colleagues to new posts on lower salaries as forest rangers patrolling for forest fires and pests.

To make up for the shortfall, the farm allowed staff members to start businesses as a sideline, hoping they would receive a financial boost by tapping other forest resources in an environmentally friendly way.

For Sun, this was through collecting and processing wild mushrooms, which are abundant in the region, as he sought to profit from the nation's growing enthusiasm for organic food.

But as the supply of wild mushrooms was constrained by seasonal factors, Sun then saw a business opportunity in the mountain springs that flow freely in the forests. In 2018, he set up a distillery that makes baijiu-a Chinese liquor-at a small facility offered by the farm free of charge. Sun said that he uses spring water and rice, a local specialty, as raw materials, unlike local competitors who commonly use corn.

His brainchild is now a lucrative business and the expansion of the distillery last year lifted its annual production capacity to 10,000 liters.

"We're planning to hire more hands," said Sun, 46, who started working as a lumberjack in 1990."We'll first consider my fellow workers at the farm who have been in financial difficulties."

In addition to the distillery, the farm built 140 greenhouses for growing edible mushrooms, hiring about 150 former lumberjacks. Wei Ranbao, a farm official overseeing the project, said the greenhouses had raised farm employees' per capita income by some 3,400 yuan ($492) a year in 2014. They now earn about 50,000 yuan a year.

The successes at Qianshao have set an example for more than 4,800 State-owned forest farms scattered across China as they attempt to shift their focus from the exploitation of forests' timber resources to their preservation, in line with government policies.

They also showcase the potential for forest resources to be used in greener ways, in line with the maxim "lucid waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets", which was put forward by President Xi Jinping in 2005, when he was Party secretary of Zhejiang province.

The forest farm reforms that started in Heilongjiang six years ago are part of a broader effort by the central authorities to revitalize the economies of former heavy industrial bases in northern and northeastern provinces that have lost steam due to the gradual depletion of oil deposits and other natural resources.

During a 2016 visit to Yichun, an area of dense forests in Heilongjiang, Xi, who is also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, stressed the significance of environmental protection and demanded concerted efforts to establish new industries other than logging.

In Beijing last year, he told legislators from northern China's Inner Mongolia autonomous region that strategic resolve was needed when it came to building an eco-friendly economy. He described the protection of the country's environment as being embedded in China's overall development strategy, and highlighted its particular relevance to the development of Inner Mongolia.

The forest farm reforms are also considered a crucial move in bolstering the ecological security of border regions as the country ramps up efforts to conserve its environment and build a "beautiful China", an idea first put forward in late 2012.

At a forest farm in Chifeng, Inner Mongolia, last year, Xi said that building an ecological security barrier in northern China was a strategic task. While visiting an afforestation area in the northwestern province of Gansu last year, he called for a spirit of perseverance and sustained efforts in building a beautiful China.

Building an ecological civilization is a major task for China as it has grown prosperous and is becoming strong, Xi said, calling for a solid "Green Great Wall" to protect the environment.

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