China’s response to large-scale erosion with reforestation is paying off according to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS). The 10-year program, known as Sloping Land Conversion Program (SLCP), is working to turn some 37 million acres back into forest or grasslands after farming on steep slopes in the Yangtze and Yellow River basins had made them perilously susceptible to erosion and flooding.
“It’s a tremendously innovative program designed to address two critical problems – securing the environment and providing economic opportunities for people in rural, desperately poor areas,” said co-author Gretchen Daily, a senior fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment and co-director of the Natural Capital Project at Stanford, in a press release.
SLCP was implemented by the Chinese government after horrific mudslides and floods in 1998 killed nearly 4,000 people and displaced some 18 million people. The extent of the disasters were in part attributed to clearcutting for agriculture on mountainous slopes.
The study, which describes the program as ‘exceptional’, found that SLCP had largely succeeded on its environmental goals, decreasing soil erosion by up to 68% in some places.
The over $40 billion reforestation program has also had important economic impacts in a poor region by paying for environmental services. Families who participate in the program received a subsidy of money and rice for foregoing farming and finding other jobs. Subsidies are received for 8 years. On average the study found that families receiving the subsidy made more than those who didn’t. However, families that made the most in study did so by receiving the subsidy while both parents worked as laborers in the city.