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Ecological Compensation Urged for Western Farmers
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Xia Sipa and his family live in Lushui County's Luzhang Town nestled deep in Yunnan's Nujiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture. Sixty percent of his hometown's land area is covered by forests. However, Xia's life has not been improved with the ecological advantages, as he ekes out a living by working as a casual laborer.

His family has over 4 mu (about 0.27 hectares) of farmland, all sloping at over 25 degrees and with an annual corn yield of only 500 kilograms.
According to Yang Zhonghua, secretary-general of the Nujiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture, the prefecture is among the poorest and most underdeveloped regions in China. Sixty-six percent of the farming population here live with average annual incomes of under 882 yuan (US$111.5) and 33 percent with less than 637 yuan (US$80.6), not enough for food or clothing.

Another 30,000 farmers living around the Caohai Lake State Natural Reserves in Guizhou Province only have 0.5 mu (0.03 hectares) of land per head since some of the cultivated lands have been reverted to lakes or wetland for birds. Also in Guizhou, the hunting ban in Maolan State Natural Reserves puts additional pressure on farmers who cannot supplement their incomes.

Ecological crisis 

For limited resources, farmers cultivated mountain slopes along the Nujiang River, greatly damaging the vegetation and causing frequent landslides, floods, mud flows, and other natural disasters. At present, no virgin forest remains in mountain-areas below 1,500 meters and soil erosion in Nujiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture has covered a total area of 3,933 square kilometers, accounting for 26.7 percent of the prefecture's entire surface area, said Yang.

According to Ren Xiaodong, director of the Environmental Protection and Social Development Research Center at Guizhou Normal University, more than 40 percent of China's forests as well as rare flora and fauna are in western regions.

The environment and the sustaining of the western regions are therefore crucial for ecological security in lower reaches as well as for Chinese and global biological diversity.

Ecological compensation

According to some experts, there is a misconception that the ecological environment is valueless. However, research shows that the ecological value of natural forests is six or seven times that of their economic value, but this enormous worth has not been accounted for during economic construction and trading.

With the implementation of the "western development strategy," ecological compensation for western regions is underway as part of a framework of policies and regulations. Yet these policies and regulations have not clearly defined the benefits and liabilities between the parties concerned in implementing and managing ecological compensation.

All the ecological environment construction projects will not succeed unless the agricultural industry in western areas is restructured and the pressure on ecological environment is lessened, observed Zhang Huiyuan, associated researcher with the Chinese Academy for Environmental Planning.

At present, ecological compensation for related departments is more than that for farmers and herdsmen. Compensation is given mainly in terms of material and capital aids instead of industrial support and production mode improvement.

Green tax

The taxation in effect in China couldn't fully present goals on environmental protection either, said Zhang, adding that most categories do not include environmental protection and sustainable development factors.

Zhang called for setting up specific items of taxation targeting environmental protection and gradually raising levies on water, air and noise pollution and ecological compensation.

These will stimulate enterprises to advance pollution disposal technology and will not halt enterprises' rights to freely choose their means of pollution prevention, he said.

To restructure and improve the resource tax would also be useful, said Zhang. He called for including mineral resources and non-mineral resources into the levies and increasing taxes on water resources to ease the increasingly strained supply of water.

Moreover, experts contributed following suggestions on ecological protection and construction:

  • To levy resource taxes on forestry and pastureland to avoid ecological damage and to levy heavy taxes on rare and non-renewable resources.
  • To strictly prohibit or restrict the import of poisonous and harmful chemicals or products that could do great damage to the environment as well as raise the tariffs on these products by a big margin.
  • To improve the administrative, investment and financing systems. The ecological environmental administration in China concerns forestry, agriculture, water resources, land resources and environmental protection departments, which lack an integrated system. Collaboration should be established among them.
  • To remove price subsidies on coal, irrigation water and other means of production.
  • To improve laws and regulations by clearly defining compensation and protection liability for local authorities in the ecological compensation system.

( by Li Shen, October 19, 2006)

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