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Forestry aid policy helps farmers
( 2003-07-28 06:56) (China Daily)

Chen Dezhen, from the village of Wugucheng in Wuqi County in Yan'an, Northwest China's Shaanxi Province, receives more than 5,000 kilograms of food every year from the government free of charge.

The food supply is in return for Chen's returning more than 4 hectares of his family's cultivated land back into forest land.

"The foodstuff is enough for the nine people in my family,'' Chen said. He added that the government also pays him more than 1,200 yuan (US$145) each year.

Chen's family now has less than 1.3 hectares of cultivated land, where they plant cash crops such as potatoes.

He also raises 15 sheep, which he said bring him some extra income.

"With the move to plant trees on cultivated land, the mountains here have turned green and the rivers become clean and we are now living in an environment that is far better than before,'' he said.

Like Chen, other farmers in Wuqi County on the Loess Plateau now all get food supplies and payment from the government for their efforts in turning cultivated land back into forest.

According to county head Xue Zhanhai, local farmers traditionally cultivated large areas of land but harvested small amounts and used to herd sheep freely.

This way of farming led to the area of cultivated land in the county reaching more than 133,000 hectares and the number of sheep in the county surpassing 500,000 in the early 1980s.

The local ecosystem then became degraded and the farmers were stuck in poverty, Xue said.

Since the county government began to encourage farmers to stop cropping on cultivated land and plant trees instead in 1997, more than 100,000 hectares of cultivated land has been turned into forest, he said.

The county now has just under 180,000 sheep and they are all kept in pens, Xue added.

Wuqi was one of first counties in China to start implementing a national programme to curb soil erosion by converting cultivated land into forest.

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