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Arguments - Intervention Possibilities
Arable Land
In principle, much can be done to prevent loss of arable land in China. Modern technology and advanced soil management methods provide great possibilities for maintaining a high level of soil productivity despite intense cultivation. Methods are available to protect soils from erosion and degradation, and to some extent it is even possible to revitalize already degraded soils.
WB00860_.gif (262 bytes) For instance, China is a pioneer in combating desertification. The Chinese have used fixation techniques for mobile sand dunes; narrow strip planting; windbreaks and shelter belts of grass, shrubs, and trees; air seeding over shifting sand dunes; and combined agro-forestry cultivation. Plantations for desertification control cover at least 10 million ha. The forest cover in Northern China increased from about 7% in the 1970s to some 12% in the early 1990s. It was estimated that the sheltering effect of these plantations helped to open up 1.3 million ha of new farmland (FAO, 1997). The FAO has also estimated that China's national program for combating desertification has helped to convert 100,000 ha of seriously desertified land into farmland.
WB00860_.gif (262 bytes) The real problems, however, are economic, administrative, and political. China's reforestation efforts, for instance, have to be implemented in some 550 counties across 13 provinces. State-organized campaigns to mobilize the masses for conservation measures and tree planting have not been successful everywhere because in some cases they were not adapted to specific local conditions and problems. This is a problem of all large-scale conservation efforts, not just those in China. Such efforts are usually initiated, organized, and financed by the national government, but the measures have to be implemented at the local level. Much can happen along the long chain of command and control from the national planning commission down to the village committee.
WB00860_.gif (262 bytes) To improve the efficiency of conservation efforts, economic mechanisms must be implemented at the local level, providing direct incentives for farmers to actively participate in reforestation or erosion control programs. For instance, it is essential that afforestation for desertification control is combined with fuelwood plantations to meet the energy needs of local households, otherwise the farmers will simply cut down the protection trees to heat their houses and cook their meals.
Efficient water erosion control is often hampered by the fact that the negative consequences of erosion (such as siltation of reservoirs) are usually only felt downstream, far away from the area that caused the problem. Soil conservation methods would certainly be much more successful if the land were owned by the farmers. For instance, farmers would be more motivated to prevent salinization of irrigated cropland through adequate leaching.
Related Arguments

Arable Land:   Trends     Impact    Data Quality    Prediction Error    Intervention Possibilities    Intervention Costs

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Revision 2.0 (First revision published in 1999)  - Copyright 2011 by Gerhard K. Heilig. All rights reserved. (First revision: Copyright 1999 by IIASA.)