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Forest folk branch out to escape poverty

By Hou Liqiang and Daqiong | China Daily | Updated: 2017-09-20 07:11

Forest folk branch out to escape poverty

Nyima Tsering, local resident [Photo/China Daily]

Ecological improvements prompt surges in tourist numbers and incomes, as Hou Liqiang and Daqiong report from Nyingchi, Tibet autonomous region.

An ancient Chinese saw says, "If you live on a mountain, you live off the mountain". That philosophy is fully embraced by people in Nyingchi, a city in the southeast of the Tibet autonomous region.

For many years, the residents ignored local regulations and casually cut down trees to sell the wood and make money. Now, though, the situation has changed and the way people live off the mountain has been modified as a result of the local government's efforts to boost ecological protection.

The trees are now rigorously protected, and more are being planted across a wide area. That has seen the number of tourists rise - attracted by the improved environment in the city, which is renowned for its scenery - and the locals are becoming richer.

In addition to its natural wonders, including the majestic Namjagbarwa Peak and the gracefully winding Yarlung Zangbo Grand Canyon, Nyingchi has some of the most diverse biological resources in the country. Sitting at an altitude of about 3,100 meters, almost 48 percent of its land is covered by forest.

Logging ban

Before 2007, when the local government imposed a strict ban on the felling of trees, the forest was a source of income for many local people, and there were about 30 commercial and natural plantations in Nyingchi.

"Previously, we lived off the mountain by cutting down trees. We would cut a truckload of wood to sell, and then repeat the process when we ran out of money," said Nyima Tsering, a native of the city's Bayi district.

After the ban was imposed, seedlings were sown on large areas of land that had been used for arable farming and stock grazing.

In response to a call by the local government, Nyima Tsering's family of five allowed 0.4 hectares of their farmland to be transformed into woodland, the 36-year-old said.

Statistics released by the Nyingchi government show that from 2011 to 2015, Nyingchi expanded its woodland area by more than 6,753 hectares by planting trees in key ecological areas and on land that was officially designated as desertified.

During the dry season, 10 of the 300 people in Nyima Tsering's community are dispatched to patrol the nearby forest to prevent illegal tree felling and to watch for fires, while the number of rangers falls to five at other times of the year, he said. He added that his family is now eligible for a subsidy of more than 10,000 yuan ($1,527) for its contribution to ecological protection.

The improvement of the ecosystem has allowed local people to reap financial benefits. For example, the area has seen a proliferation of matsutake mushrooms growing in the wild, along with a rise in the number of species of herbs. This year, the price of a kilogram of the dried mushrooms has averaged about 1,300 yuan in the local markets, which has helped raise the living standards of many residents.

It's not unusual to hear of local people making more than 1,000 yuan a day by picking matsutake mushrooms during the rainy season.

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