Community-based forest management: the collective forest tenure reform in Jiewen village, Fujian province, China

This case study examines the community-based forest management and the collective forest tenure reform in Jiewen village, Wuping county, Longyan city, Fujian province, China. It uses various documents to develop a timeline about how Jiewen village, the first experimental unit in Fujian, makes great achievements of the collective forest tenure reform. The village chief, the village council, the local communities, the local governments, and the state governments cooperate tightly to clarify forest rights for the community including forestland ownership, management rights, disposal rights, and usufruct. With the description of different stakeholders, the case study discusses and assesses the achievements and deficiencies of the collective forest tenure reform and collective forest management by Jiewen’s people. Meanwhile, the under-forest economy will also be discussed in this case study. Some recommendations will also be attached at last.

Longyan, Fujian, China. via Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

Introduction

Jiewen Village is under the jurisdiction of Wan'an Town, Wuping County, Longyan City. It is located at the southwestern part of Fujian Province, more than 10 kilometers away from the county town[1]. Jiewen is a typical village relying on forestry and agriculture. It has the most sparse population but richest forest resources in Wan'an Township, with 26,763 acres of forests and 46.2 acres per capita[1]. Timber and non-timber forest products are vital sources for villagers to maintain their livelihood.

Jiewen is a pioneer for the collective forest tenure reform and community-based forest management in China. Since 2001, Jiewen has developed and enforced their new collective forest tenure system, harvesting, marketing timber products, and under-forest economy for better livelihoods of the community. Through the collective forest tenure reform, Jiewen community redistributed the collective forests and clarified forest rights for villagers. Compared with other places in China, the maturity of the management system of this village has a profound meaning for providing a demonstration for the future development in community-based forest management.

Background -The Collective Forest Tenure in China

After the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the collective forest tenure system experienced four significant changes[2]. In the beginning, forestland was divided into freehold forests during the land resource reform period in the 1950s. Then forests were turned into collective-owned in the agricultural collectivization period for the following twenty years, leading to the unified forest management by People's Communes[3]. At that time, "the people" controlled by the state government and Communist Party of China (CPC) owned all the forest resources.

Due to the defects and inefficiency of this management regime[4], People’s Communes disbanded and an official start of collective forest tenure reform started in 1981 by the Central Committee of the CPC and the State Council. In the "Decisions on some issues concerning forest protection and forestry development"[5], the government introduced “three-set” forestry. According to the “three-set” forestry, about 85% of the forest is collectively owned, and 14% is reserved for the state, only nearly 1% is owned by freeholders or with unclear ownership. The State Forest Administration (SFA) issued the forest certificate to owners. Family hills (so-called Ziliu Shan) were assigned to households from the collective forests, entitling communal ownership of the trees and permanent use rights of the land. Forestry management responsibility was established. The collective forests are divided to householders for management and protection. Each householder is responsible for a specific piece of forest area (so-called Zeren Shan). By 1986, nearly 70% of the collective forestlands in the eight southern provinces had been transferred to household management[4].

However, the unified management of collective forests continued. The planned economy approach was adopted in the collective forest market. That is to say, timber products were purchased and sold by the local forestry department. The local forestry department set a price to purchase from the village, and then the village council organized people to harvest. The regulated price, however, contains a part of the collective community income, as a result of which the farmers do not have much income from the harvest. On the other hand, the timber purchased by the local forestry department was sold to the market based on the market price. The process of price making caused the “price scissors”, which was a vital source of county revenue and were used to pay the salary to foresters working for the local forestry department.

By the mid-1980s, as Zhao (2017) mentioned in his report, the number of counties that are rich in collective forest inventory of over 3 million cubic meters reduced from 158 in the 1950s to less than 100[2]. Meanwhile, the number of counties that could provide industrial materials was decreased from 297 to 172. The third national forest resource inventory shows that the total stock of standing timber in the southern collective forest area decreased by more than 180 million cubic meters compared with the second inventory[2]. In 1987, the government stopped the allocation of forestland of the collective forests since the timber harvest of individual households led to the severe deforestation in southern China forests.

The new market mechanisms enacted in the 1990s by the state government, in which people were allowed to transfer long-term usufruct of all kinds of collective forests, as well as the establishment of forest cooperatives. However, “Despite the increase in the scale of forestry operation, the productivity of collective forests decreased in the 1990s compared to state-owned forests, mainly because the heavy tax burden and difficulties in obtaining harvest permits decreased farmers’ incentives to invest in forestry.”[6]

A Prevalence of Illegal Wood Cutting

In the report by Li X. (2017), he interviewed Jiewen's people who experienced the collective forest tenure reform[7]. Li Yongxing used to be the Village Chief of Jiewen who lead the Village Council to promote the reform. Li Guilin is a villager whose subsistence entirely rely on the collective forests.

  • “At that time (before the collective forest tenure reform), the forests were owned by the village collectively. Villagers only assumed the responsibility of management and protection. After the application for harvest was approved by the local forest department, the villagers could enter the forests. However, that cannot be called as usufruct or management rights. Villagers didn’t have those rights.” – Li Yongxing, interviewed by Li X[7].

Lack of the property rights but the heavy load for responsibility led to the community members’ unwillingness to cooperate for the collective forest management. In the 1990s, if a family in village urgently needed cash income, the family members ran into the collective forest to cut a few trees. The reality of low income by the harvest makes the villagers tough to survive and maintain their livelihoods. A prevalence of stealing the wood to earn money came to be at that time. One of the main tasks of the village chiefs at that time was to watch around the forests and set up barriers to prevent deforestation.

  • “Villagers felt that the forest is not owned by themselves anyway. Trees were cut down during the day and were transported at night. Finally, people sold those wood secretly. They could easily earn over a hundred yuan in this way while only seven yuan by harvesting timber products valued about forty-yuan.” – Li Guilin, interviewed by Li X[7].

In 1993, the forest police in the Forestry Department of Wuping County (FDWC) went to Jiewen Village to investigate and detain the villagers for deforestation. Ten people were arrested at the time, of which seven were sentenced.

  • “Since then, the male villagers basically hid away when they saw the forest police, remaining the female villagers.” – Li Yongxing, interviewed by Li X[7].

A Favorable Turn - The Customary Forest Rights Through The Local Forestry Management

City of Longyan. By rheins via Wikimedia Commons. CC BY 3.0.

In 1999, the City Council of Longyan (CCL) and the Forestry Department of Longyan (FDL) decided to deepen the market mechanisms reform in forestry system. To promote the plan, they enforced an official document to reform the forest tenure system and forest rights, which was not acknowledged by the state government at that time. Jiewen Village, of Li Yongxing, the village chief's own accord, became the first testing unit for the collective forest tenure reform in Longyan.

In order to start the reform, the village had to carve a path. However, there were no lessons could be drawn from the past. The CCL used to propose a plan to re-allocate the forestland according to the villagers' bidding. While the Forestry Department of Fujian Provincial (FDFP) worried that the plan could incur issues that intervened by outside businesspeople. Therefore, FDFP required the village first to average the forestland and permitted the Wuping government to develop new forest certificate authorizing forest rights in Jiewen. In this case, the village council organized a villagers' meeting for discussing the question of how to divide the forests and who are going to divide the forests.

  • “At that time, 80% of the villagers agreed that the collective forests should be distributed to each household on average. So we decided to do it.” – Li Yongxing, interviewed by Li X[7].

Eventually, the Village Council divided the collective forests into each householder. The technician from the FDWC and FDL, the villagers and the village chiefs went together and collaborated for implementation of the forest inventory and demarcating the forestlands in fields, making sure that households were allocated the collective forests fairly. Following that, the Village Council published the situation of the registration of the new forest certificates for a month. In December 2001, Li Guilin received the first new forest certificate, in which the forest ownership and a bundle of rights including management rights, disposal rights, and usufruct were clarified.

  • “On December 30, 2001, I got the first new forest certificate in our country. The village had a certificate issuing ceremony. When my name was reported, I was so excited. I am the real owner of the forests. I owned 259 acres of the forestland.” – Li Guilin, interviewed by Li X[7].

There were 352 certificates involving 26763 mu forestlands distributed into households in Jiewen village[7]. Every householder has its forest rights of a piece of forestland. In 2002, with the support by the FDFP, the CCL and the FDWC, the Village Council and villagers came with consistency and developed an implementation plan for deepening the collective forest tenure reform in Jiewen Village. In the document, the forests in Jiewen village is collectively owned. Villages are allowed to use the forests through a paid-use system in the condition of constant usage of the land. The time for renting forests is fifty years. Based on the management system, households who are responsible for the allocated forest have forest rights according to the new forest certificate. The rights should be acknowledged by households or cooperatives.

More specifically, there are four main strategies of the policy[8].

  1. Villagers who harvest non-timber forest products from their own-grown forestland in the past or the future have the property rights. The group of people does not need to pay fees to the village council.
  2. The Village Council charges villagers if they harvest timber directly from the collective-grown forests and natural forests in the village. The charged fees depend on the quality of the forest. The money will contribute to the financial revenue of the village.
  3. For those forests that have already been contracted, the contractor doesn’t need to pay fees again before expiration of the contract.
  4. Forests in dispute through the old forest certificate will be mediated by the village council first. Then claimant can refer the case to court if they are dissatisfied with the result.

Further Forestry Development

Under-forest economy acted as an essential part of the further forestry development in Wuping. C. Lin (2016) defined that the under-forest economy is to improve the overall utilization efficiency of forest land and resources under the guidance of the concept of sustainable development[9]. It includes various pathways such as under-forest planting, under-forest farming, forest-related products collection and processing, and forest landscape utilization. It is an ecological economic development model that aims at achieving a win-win situation for socio-economic development and forest resources conservation.

Four types of the under-forest economy below[9]:

  • Under-forest planting
  1. Domesticated wild vegetations
  2. Bionics wild cultivation
  3. Interplanting oil-bearing crops and precious tree seedlings
  • Under-forest farming
  1. Free-ranging livestock
  2. Beekeeping
  3. Frog breeding
  • Non-timber forest products
  1. Dried bamboo shoots
  2. Pine resin
  3. Mushroom
  • Eco-tourism: build nature reserve park relying on rich forest resources and develop ecological-friendly tourism.

According to the statistics of 2013[9], the Wuping county's under-forest economic management area reached 2,455,531 mu. 7200 households and 65 professional cooperatives engaged in the forest economy. The number of forest economy employees was 13,007, and the total output value was 13.68 billion yuan[9].

Based on the development of the collective forests in Jiewen, the power and interest levels for stakeholders are listed below.

High power

Low interest

High power

High interest

  • Forestry Department of Fujian Provincial (FDFP)
  • Central Committee of the CPC
  • State Council
  • Forestry Department of Wuping County (FDWC)
  • City Council of Longyan (CCL)
  • Forestry Department of Longyan (FDL)
Low power

High interest

Low power

Low interest

  • Villagers who harvest timber from the collective-grown forests and natural forests in Jiewen Village
  • Villagers who develop the under-forest economy
  • Village Chief
  • Village Council
  • Villagers whose livelihoods do not rely on any kinds of collective forests
  • Foresters

Affected Stakeholders

  • Villagers who harvest timber from the collective-grown forests and natural forests in Jiewen Village
  • Villagers who develop under-forest economy

Before the state government recognized the collective forest tenure reform, those villagers had customary property rights on the collective forests in Jiewen. With the policies recognized by the State Council and the Central Committee of the CPC, those group of people is entitled to the statuary property rights on their forestland. Since Jiewen's people collectively own the forests, households do not have private properties but communal property rights of the forests assigned to them.

  • Village Chief
  • Village Council

In Jiewen Village, the village council members are elected from different villager teams. They participate in the collective forest allocation the same as other villagers. It means that they do not only serve for the higher level of authorities but also mainly represent the local communities' interests. Similarly, the village chief is one of the Jiewen's people. These two stakeholders' livelihood can be directly affected by the collective forest in Jiewen. Therefore, they should be regarded as affected stakeholders.

Interested Outside Stakeholders

The groups of people listed below are not directly affected by the collective forest management in Jiewen, but play indispensable roles in the entire process.

  • Villagers whose livelihoods do not rely on any kinds of collective forests
  • Foresters
  • Forestry Department of Wuping County (FDWC)
  • City Council of Longyan (CCL)
  • Forestry Department of Longyan (FDL)
  • Forestry Department of Fujian Provincial (FDFP)
  • Central Committee of the CPC
  • State Council

Achievements 

After the collective forest tenure reform, Jiewen solved many of the main problems that existed in the village[8].

First, the new forest certificate ensures that every householder has its forest allocated from the collective forests. They gained a dominant position of forests in the new model of the collective forest management, moving forward to a better situation of the ownership of forestry property rights compared to the "three-set" forestry period.

Second, the income of villagers and the positivity for managing the forest are improved. Jiewen's people turned to be more responsible for the forestry management system, which alleviated the situation of collective forest degradation and boosted the community forest security.

Meanwhile, the financial revenue of the village increased as a result of the successful co-management among different stakeholders. The under-forest economy plays an incontestable role in the process of the collective forest tenure reform. It provides new opportunities and great potential for the development of collective forestry in Jiewen.

More profoundly, Jiewen, such a small village’s practice in forest tenure reform has large-scale influences for the whole forestry system in China. Experiencing the successful testing in Jiewen Village, without superior authorization, legal basis, and enough experience, the government of Wuping County enacted the policies of deepening the reform of the collective forest tenure and the forest property system in 2002. The further collective forest tenure reform gradually unfolded. Soon after, the provincial premier who went to Wuping for a site visit was impressed by the management achievements. He permitted and encouraged the new form of the collective forest tenure. In 2003, the whole Fujian province got involved in the reform. In the same year, the CPC Central Committee and the State Council enacted the Decision on Accelerating Forestry Development as a beginning of paying attention to the collective forest system. Eventually, in 2006, Jiewen's forestry development mode was recognized by the state government. Legislation system was promulgated in the range of the country in 2008 through the Opinions on Comprehensively Promoting the Collective Forest Tenure Reform[10]. It displayed a similar structure with Jiewen's model which can be summarized as the redistribution of the forest ownership, the management rights, the disposal rights and the usufruct[11].

Deficiencies

According to the General Situation of Forest Resource Management in China[12], about 60% of the forests in China are collectively owned, and the rest are state-owned. However, the proportion of forest stock by the collective forests are just around 37%, weighing much less than the state forests compared to the forest ownership match ratio. It shows that the quality of the collective forests needs improve in an extended period.

Following the criterions of the sustainable forest management, Jiewen and other communities still need to confront with difficulties of collective forest co-management. The Eighth National Forest Resource Inventory Results[13] shows that the problem of deforestation in some areas is still severe with the acceleration of urbanization and industrialization. It illustrates that some communities have not realized the essential of the under-forest economy which benefits the socio-economic development and forest resources conservation. Combined with current situation, China has a really top-down political system. Mostly, if the highest government make a decision, the lower level administrations have to follow the order. It forms an efficient system to promote the policies but reversely lead to lacking the involvement of people in the bottom.

On the other hand, the unclear concept of the forest rights still causes issues. Accoring to L. Zhang (2010)[14], there is no completed and specific enactment concerning the definition of the forest right in terms of the collective forest and forest market mechanism. As a core in forestry, the forest rights should be a legal concept while it is more often used with unclear directions in a policy term[14]. Meanwhile, the legal rationality is also insufficient, current series of logical problems. To some extent, these have led to enormous obstacles to the connection between China's forest tenure reform policy and relevant legislation. Based on the current practice, the forest right can be defined as a limited concept targeting the utilization right and the usufruct of forests.

  • Villagers: Explore pathways for higher income and better livelihoods through the community-based collective forest management. For those who rely on the under-forest planting, under-forest farming, and non-timber forest products, they can try to create various approaches to eveloping new forms of forestry economy.
  • Village council: Host some education activity for villagers to let them have a better knowledge about the forest, ecosystem, and under-forest farming technique. They also need to consider a scheduled timetable for the regulated meeting.
  • Foresters: Gain advanced knowledge and technology for improving the quality and quantity of the collective forests.
  • Local governments: Offer appropriation and loans for villagers and communities to develop forest economy.
  • Forest Departments: Encourage different organizations like NGOs to involve in the collective forest management and the sustainable forest management.
  • State Government: Strengthen legislation system for forest rights. Reduce the taxes and fees for the communities in forestry developement.
  1. 1.01.1 Jiewencun. 2018, May 1. In Baidubaike. Retrieved October 22, 2018, from https://baike.baidu.com/item.
  2. 2.02.12.2 Zhao, P. (2017). 武平林改十五年(人民眼·林权改革)[The fifteen-year forest tenure reform in Wuping County]. Retrieved October 28, 2018, from http://politics.people.com.cn/n1/2017/0710/c1001-29392889.html.
  3. Menzies, N. K. (2007). Our forest, your ecosystem, their timber: communities, conservation, and the state in community-based forest management. New York: Columbia University Press.
  4. 4.04.1 Lu, W., Landell-Mills, N., Liu, J., Xu, J., Liu, C. (2002). Getting the private sector to work for the public good: instruments for sustainable private sector forestry in China. London: International Institute for Environment and Development. https://scholar.google.com/scholar_lookup?title=Getting.
  5. State Forestry Administration. (1981).关于保护森林发展林业若干问题的决定[Decision on several issues concerning the protection of forest and development of forestry]. Retrieved from http://www.pkulaw.cn/fulltext_form.aspx?.
  6. Xie, Y., Gong, P., Han, X., & Wen, Y. (2014). The effect of collective forestland tenure reform in China: Does land parcelization reduce forest management intensity? Journal of forest economics, 20(2), 126-140. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jfe.2014.03.001.
  7. 7.07.17.27.37.47.57.6 Li, X. (2017). “林改第一村”是如何破除五难的 [How did the Jiewen Village solve the five difficulties?]. Retrieved from https://www.thepaper.cn/newsDetail_forward_1724707.
  8. 8.08.1 Zhou, J. (2009). 武平县捷文村集体林权制度改革模式的分析评价[Analyze the mode of the collective forest tenure reform in Jiewen Village]. Green finance and accounting, 4, 40-41. https://doi.org/10.14153/j.cnki.lsck.2009.04.004.
  9. 9.09.19.29.3 Lin, C. (2016). 武平县林下经济发展状况研究[Study on the development of under-forest economy in Wuping County]. 现代商贸工业, 34, 50-51. https://doi.org/10.19311/j.cnki.1672-3198.2016.34.026.
  10. Central Committee of the Communist Party of China & State Council. (2008). 中共中央、国务院关于全面推进集体林权制度改革的意见[Opinions on comprehensively promoting the collective forest tenure reform]. Retrieved from http://www.forestry.gov.cn/main/3131/20080608/468085.html.
  11. Zhang, X., Xie, Y., Wen, Y., & Li, H. (2011). Status and prospect on collective forest tenure reform in China. World forestry research, 24(2), 64–69. Retrieved from http://www.sjlyyj.com/ch/reader/create_pdf.aspx?file_no=20110212.
  12. State Forestry Administration. (2014). General Situation of Forest Resource Management in China, pp. 3-4. Retreived from http://211.167.243.162:8085/8/book/jiankuang/index.html.
  13. State Forestry Administration. (2014). The eighth national forest resource inventory results. Beijing: The forest resource management, pp. 1-2. http://doi.org/10.13466/j.cnki.lyzygl.2014.01.001.
  14. 14.014.1 Zhang, L. (2010). Misunderstanding and rational cognition of forest rights]. Journal of China University of Geosciences (Social Sciences Edition), 10(1), 87-92. https://doi.org/10.16493/j.cnki.42-1627/c.2010.01.015.


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