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Despite massive efforts at reforestation, China's native forests continue to be displaced by plantations. A new study by researchers from the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), Kunming Institute of Botany (KIB), Princeton University, and Sun Yat-sen University argues that rural communities could help reverse this trend if they were given incentives to protect and restore native forests on their own land.
"Land collectively owned by rural communities accounts for 60% of China's forest land and the vast majority of China's newly-established forest cover" said Fangyuan Hua, a Newton International Fellow at the University of Cambridge and lead author of the study. "However, existing forest policies largely neglect collectively-owned lands and provide no mechanism for restoring native forests on them".
Partly as a result, even as China's total forest cover has increased over the past 20 years, it has continued to lose native forests. The authors of the new study, published today in Conservation Letters, say that this has had negative impacts for both biodiversity and ecosystem health. The researchers argue that properly designed compensation schemes could incentivize the protection and restoration of native forests on collective land.
"China already operates forest compensation schemes - that is, policies which pay farmers to protect and restore forests" said Jianchu Xu of ICRAF and KIB, and a co-author of the study. "However, these programmes need to directly assess the ecological services provided by native forests, such as biodiversity conservation or soil and water retention - and pay farmers accordingly".