Environmental Technologies Industries
Export.gov logo and link to Export.gov Environmental Technologies Industries

Market Plans

China Environmental Export Market Plan
Chapter 8 - Resource Management
Chapter 8 - Resource Management

This section includes a number of resource management issues and technologies that have not been covered in other sections. Some subjects may not be appropriate for technology providers, but they may be appropriate for consultants and innovative management and protection systems providers.

China's territory encompasses the third largest land area in the world, after Russia and Canada. However, land resources per capita fall far below world averages. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, China accounts for 22 percent of the world's population but has only 10 percent of the world's arable land. The arable land totals about 130 million hectares, or only 0.1 hectare per person. Additionally, the quality of the arable land is generally poor, with almost 80 percent classified as low- or mid-yield land. Unsustainable agricultural and irrigation practices, water supply problems, severe degradation due to pollution, deforestation, erosion, and urbanization further exacerbate the problem.

China is rich in grasslands of many varieties, which cover over 40 percent of its territory. A massive push to "improve" the grasslands for agriculture in the 1950s and 1960s led to rapid erosion and ultimately desertification. Intense livestock production, overgrazing, and permanent settlement of traditional nomads contributed to further deterioration. Over a third of the grasslands are overgrazed, and the desertified areas have doubled in size since the mid-20th century.

According to China's fourth forest resources survey, "forested land" covers about 260 million hectares, although only about half of this is actually covered by forests. Forests in China suffer from overlogging, illegal logging, and conversion to agricultural use. The aftereffects of forest destruction are noticeable in the form of serious soil erosion and massive flooding in certain areas. Efforts are underway to arrest this situation. Since the 1970s, deforestation trends have been reversed due to major afforestation efforts. Because of this, the area of forested land has increased, but the state of forests in terms of biodiversity and age continued to decline right up until 1998, when the government imposed a logging ban. Even now, this ban is consistently violated.

The main concern regarding sustainable land management in China is food security. China has been experiencing a net loss of cultivatable land due to massive urbanization, especially in the fertile eastern regions where the majority of the population resides. Even worse, most additions to arable land resources have been made by the reclamation of fragile grassland, wetland and coastal ecosystems. Major land reclamation work, such as that in the desert region of Xinjiang, has generated an increased demand for irrigation water, but unsustainable water practices have led to the deterioration of nearby water-rich areas.

Policy and Legislation

Environmental awareness has significantly increased since 1978, and higher priority has been placed on the strengthening of policies related to land management. Legislation, administrative research, institutional restructuring, and education have all contributed to a much stronger framework for conservation and land resource planning. Administrative actions have included merging the National Land Bureau and the Ministry of Geology into the Land and Natural Resources Ministry and reclassifying the Ministry of Forestry as the State Forestry Bureau. Since the implementation of these changes, SEPA has been the main entity responsible for the administration of rural ecology and conservation. However, at the ministry level, there is still some confusion: while SEPA is the highest authority relating to ecology, the Ministry of Water Resources is responsible for water and soil conservation, and the Ministry of Agriculture oversees farming and productive lands. There is no national parks service or the equivalent, and the setting aside of nature reserves is undertaken in a sporadic and quantity-driven manner.

The government has expressed several ambitious goals concerning land use and management for the next 10 to 20 years. Priority is being placed on undoing the damage of the past half century by increasing and protecting forests and grasslands as well as restoring wetlands, halting the spread of desertification, and preventing further arable soil loss in order to maintain the current level of self-sufficiency in food production.

Shortfalls of the Ninth Five Year Plan are not affecting the Tenth Five Year Plan. Goals stated in the Tenth plan cite an increase in percentages relative to the amounts and distribution of resources at 1995 levels; however, few 1995 baselines relevant to these percentages exist. In addition, certain definitions are vague, as demonstrated by the overlap between "reduced farmland" and "eroded areas."

Despite the policy advances of the past decade, many government organs and state mouthpieces remain confused, as illustrated by a recent statement issued by the minister of land and natural resources:

China will strengthen management of farmland and prevent the destruction of cultivated land; it will press ahead with improvement of land, intensify reclamation efforts, and appropriately exploit the reserve resources of cultivated land. Meanwhile, it will pursue the policy of tapping the potential of land for construction purpose and vigorously promote the intensive use of land. (People's Daily, Feb. 1, 2001. Emphasis added.)

The effectiveness of resource regulation and policy is hampered by conflicts of interest, often within and among the very entities that are responsible for regulation. The State Forestry Bureau, for example, is on the one hand responsible for protecting and monitoring the national forest reserves. The same bureau has traditionally been involved in the exploitation and use of national forest resources, often benefiting directly from the sale of licenses and contracts for such activities or indirectly from the formation of companies that conduct business using these resources.

Additional and perhaps more dangerous constraints to resource management are coming into focus as the government restructures to meet the demands of a more deregulated and global economy. As the government relaxes control over economic activities, it needs to take steps to ensure firmer control over resource utilization, an outcome that seems unlikely given current efforts.


Desert regions, which cover over a quarter of China, are expanding. This expansion accelerated with unsustainable land reclamation, agricultural practices, and livestock production that began in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as urban development and deforestation throughout the 1990s. Desertification affects two distinct regions in China; most notably, the northern plains of Inner Mongolia and several provinces to the south of it, but also the drainage basins in the West, mostly in Xinjiang and Gansu provinces.

Desertification contributes to a host of problems in China, in both rural settings and urban centers. Unfortunately, desertification is often caused by problems to which it contributes, forming a vicious cycle. These include:

Anti-Desertification Efforts

Tree and grass planting seems to be the most effective way to combat desertification for now. Reforestation and shelterbelt efforts are increasing. In December 2000, the chief of the State Forestry Bureau announced that $11.6 billion would be spent over the next 10 years on forest protection and reforestation efforts. However, the majority of reforestation consists of plantations of cedar in the South and poplar in the North, which do not adequately compensate for the loss of biodiversity and old-growth forests.

Typical methods of preventing sand movement and stabilizing the advance of sand areas include the erection of barriers and the planting of scrub or grasses on the windward sides of dunes.

One method to control desertification is the planting of seabuckthorn, a local economically valuable and hardy grass. United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and Food and Agriculture Organization efforts are concentrating on the viability of this plant as an economically profitable solution to the loss of farmland.

Salinization and Irrigation

China is predisposed to heavily salinized lands, especially in its western regions. Furthermore, ongoing salinization in China results from poor irrigation and other water-use techniques in areas with scarce water resources. According to recent World Bank estimates, salinized land occupies about 80 to 100 million hectares, 10 percent of which are cultivated land. Salinized coastal zones in the east also serve as a source of sandstorms. The Ministry of Water Resources estimates that the rate of salinization is actually decreasing due to prevention and remediation measures introduced in the late 1980s.

Best Sales Prospects

Soil Reclamation Technology

In order to increase overall crop yields, the agricultural sector is in great need of innovative and low-cost equipment or technology that can improve the yield of highly alkaline soil. A Sino-Japanese cooperative project is underway to improve the quality of saline soil in North China's Shanxi Province by applying soil conditioners that are a byproduct of Shanxi power plants.

Soil Remediation Technology

Pollution caused by landfill leakage, pesticides, industry, and heavy mining has harmed over 13 million acres of farmland in China. Although soil remediation technology is typically expensive, innovative approaches may find a niche, as the government sees this as a high priority.

Irrigation Technology

The key to alleviating China's flood and drought problems is water efficiency. Implementation of water-efficient irrigation systems does not require high technology or great expense. It does require a knowledge transfer in regard to system design, efficient use of resources, and the manufacture of parts that are designed for efficient purposes. Multilaterally financed irrigation projects use efficient equipment and design in isolated projects, but these techniques are not replicated and do not spread.

Box 8. Plantation Timber Products Case Study

Plantation Timber Products, a Singapore-based company, recently made headlines as one of the most successful foreign-funded companies in China. After embarking on an ambitious economic development project that helped restructure the timber industry in inner China, the company secured an International Finance Corporation (IFC) loan for an afforestation project in Hebei Province.

Plantation Timber Products' efforts encourage farmers in poverty-stricken western regions to substitute sustainable tree-farming techniques for traditional agriculture. The switch has had several effects: an improved economy in the region with direct effects for farmers, the stabilization of large tracts of flood-prone Yangtze valley areas, and the development of sustainable wood reserves.

In some cases, timber plantations are criticized for encouraging the destruction of biologically diverse native forests for the
plantation of one species of fast-growing timber. China's case is different. With so much of the country's natural forest completely devastated, timber plantations represent a reforestation effort that provides economic benefits through the transmission of sustainable development practices. Plantation Timber Products is gaining the approval and trust of the government as well as of major multilateral lending organizations such as the IFC.

Selected References and Web Sites


Jiang Xueqin, "Standing Tall: Plantation Timber Products Overcomes the Odds to Succeed in China's Impoverished Interior." Far Eastern Economic Review, Sept. 7, 2000.

"Pollution, Landfills Devouring Agriculture." China Online, June 9, 2000.

"Sino-Japanese Project to Upgrade Saline Soil." People's Daily. June 22, 2000.

"Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development in China, Part 1: The Agro-Ecosystem and China's Rural Economy." Promotion of Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development in China: Elements for a Policy Framework and a National Agenda 21 Action Program. (Beijing: FAO/UNDP/Ministry of Agriculture of the PRC, 1997.)

Web Sites

Hunan and Nature in Harmony; China Environment and Development Information: www.enviroinfo.org.cn (Categories include: land resources, land use, desertification, salinization, soil erosion, land degradation, sandstorms. Consists of a collection of articles pertinent to this subsector.)

China Online agriculture section: www.chinaonline.com/industry/agriculture/agriculture_center.asp

United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization: www.fao.org
(Contains project documents and publications of interest in the area of land resources.)

Contact Us  About ITA  ITA Site Map  Privacy Statement
U.S.Department of Commerce    International Trade Administration