Created: 1996-05-15, Last update: 1997-03-30, Author: Holger Blasum, URL:, Parent:

US: forests

DE: china sichuan tibetan area timber policy for state-owned companies
AU: Zhao Ang 赵昂
CS: Communist Party of China, Sichuan Committee, Policy Research Dept
PY: 1992
SO: Economic Geography 经济地理 (Changsha) 12(1)55-61
TI: On the position predicament and way towards positive circle of
forestry in the Zang area of Sichuan province 四川藏区森林的地位, 困境和

(Translated by Bai Linhan)

Note: m3 is cubic meter, M is mega/million, G is giga/billion, km2 is
square kilometer. The Tibetan area of Sichuan province is divided into
two districts ("zhou"), Aba and Ganzi which a are organized in a score
of counties ("xian").

The difficult position of the forest in the Tibetan area of Sichuan
province and ideas how to make it go into a positive circle

The forest in the Tibean area is very important for the people in
the Yangtse basin and even the whole country. But is now in a hobble of
lacking resources and money. The state should change its former policy
which meant little planting and much felling to much planting and
little felling. So the forest could go a positive circle.

I. The position and the particularities of the forests in the
Tibetan area of Sichuan province

With a total area of 237,000 km2, the Tibetan areas has 41. 6% of
the total area of the whole province. It's population is 1. 56 million
people, including more than one million Tibetans, whose number is only
second to Tibet province proper. The forest in the Tibetan area covers
7.18 Mha, which is 37.7% of the forest resources of the whole province.
It has 540Mm3 of usable wood resources, which account for 48% of the
whole province. It thus is an important forest area in SW China. In
the recent 50 years, the state has set up 18 forest factories
which produced 70Mm3 wood and turned one billion yuan to the state.

1. The forest in the Tibetan area is a huge green reservoir at the
upper reaches of the Yangtse river and the Yellow River

The Tibetan area of Sichuan province is located in the southeast
iof Qinghai-Tibet plateau and more than 3000-4000 meters above the sea
level. Most of the area belongs to the Yangtse upper river system: It
is the birthplace of the main tributaries of the upper reaches of the
Yangtse, such as Jinsha River, Yalu River, Dadu River, Min River and
Jialing River. The flow of each of the above-mentioned rivers is more
than the Yellow river and when uniting at Yibin (Southern Sichuan) they
form the magnificent Yangtse. On the other hand, some rivers also
tribute to the Yellow River System, such as the Jiuqu river, the Bai
river and the Mo river. The forest is distributed among these rivers
and mountains, so it can hold the water and soil and keep the
ecological balance of the upper basin of the Yangtse while breeding two
mother rivers of China - Yangtse and Yellow river. One should keep in
mind that the Yangtse river area houses 1/3 of the people and
cultivated farm land of Chian, and the farm and industry output of the
region is 2/5 of China. So this area has a very important position in

2. It is the biggest nature protecter which has plenty of water
power and mineral resources

The Tibetan area belongs to the Qinghai-Tibet plateau and Hengduan
mountains in the west and borders on the Sichuan basin in the east. The
water of Jinsha, YAlu, Dadu and Min rivers flows from the plateau ( 4000
meters above the sea level) down to the basin with 300-500 meters above
sea level during a short distance, forming a plenty of water power. It
is said tha "waterpower in China is the best under the sun", 61. 4% of
the water power resources are in SW China, about 40% of the SW China
water resources are in Sichuan, and the Tibetan area is the best area
for this in Sichuan. [P56] The four main rivers (Jinsha, Yalong, Dadu,
Min river) in this area alone can exploit 76.77 GW which is 83. 8% the
whole province's potential. So it is very important to the
future development of Sichuan. The waterpower could be transmitted to
the east of China and satisfy the need of power in more developed
asreas, such as the east of China and the central China.

3. The Tibetan area is a green barrier to the "Land of Abundance"

East of the Tibetan area is the Chengdu plain with massive
irrigation works, using the water of Minjiang river for irrigation
since over 2, 000 years. Being rich in agriculture, forestry,
animal husbandry, mineral and hydroelectric resources and having a
mild climate, it is entitled "land of Abundance". The forest of the
Tibetan area keeps off the cold air current from the NW and the Qinghai-
Tibet plateau and adjusts the climate in Sichuan basin, keeping
the ecological balance of the Chengdu plain. Furthermore, it plays a good
role in preserving the water and soil of the Min river basin.
Due to these special geographic conditions, the Sichuan Tibetan
area is very important to our economic development. And additionally,
it is a lot different from another two forest areas, viz. the NE China
and the S China forest areas: (1) The forest has vertical distribution
and the growth cycle is very long, so it is difficult to renew it. Most
of the forest is distributed 2800-4000 meters above the sea level, the
climate is cold and the air is thin. Annual precipitation is low and
it is frosty all the time. THe main trees in the natural forests all
belong to cold-temperate zone conifers, such as spruces and firs. So
the trees grow slowly and are really diffcult to renew. But today, the
man-made forest has great difficulties to survive on mountains higher than
3500 meters above sea level. Most of the forests in the Tibetan area are
distributed just above 3,500 meters. So to renew the natural forest
needs 120 years and to renew the man- made forest needs at least 80
years. But the elevation of the other two forest areas is about 1000
meters, the ecological environment is good, especially in the southern
forest areas, the growth cycle of the trees is short and the survival
rate of man-made forests is much higher than in the Tibetan area
forests. (2) Being located in a Tibetan area, problems of benefit
distribution among the central and provincial government and the
minority nationality arise. The other two areas do not have such
problems. (3) The forest industry is most important to economy on the
Tibetan area. The economy of the Tibetan area is not flourishing, so
the forest industry occupies an important place. In 1980, the forest
industry output value of the Aba district (one of the two districts in
the Tibetan area) accounted for 70.1% of the total industrial output and
its tax revenue accounted for 64% of the financial revenue. In Ganzi,
timber industry accounted for 55.5% of the total industrial output. In
1989, the output value of the forest industry in Ganzi has slightly
dropped to 54.7% of the total output of industry and agriculture and
accounts for half of the tax revenue. In Aba although the importance
of timber has fallen, it is still of paramount importance. In many
counties in the Tibetan area the timber industry reaches 70% of the
revenues. In the other two Chinese forest areas, because of the
flourishing commodity economy the forest industry is not that important
for the whole economy.

II. The forest in the Tibetan area faces a resource crisis and
economic difficulties

The development of forestry in the Tibetan area of Sichuan
province has already a 30 years long history. Because there wasn't
enough knowledge about it and the economic benefit was overemphasized
we fell excessively for a long time. So from the beginning of the 80s
the forest industry has plunged into a resource crisis. [P57] (1) Just
after liberation (1949), we had 760 Mm3 of forest resources in the
Tibetan area.From the 50s to the 70s, we built the three railroads from
Chengdu to Chongqing, Xian and Kunming and developed the forest more
and more,using a lot of resources. Now there are 540 Mm3 forest
resources left.Among them, only 87 Mm3 can be used for log production.
The over-felling of Aba district is most serious. Early in 1950 there
were 340 Mm3 forest resources. During 1950-1985, some 155 Mm3 of forest
resources hae been used to produce 47Mm3 of timber. There are now 180
Mm3 left, of which only 34 Mm3 can be used. The forest factories have
now 21.04 Mm3 of timber reserves which can produce 8.31 Mm3 of timber.
In 1960, there was a peak of felling, 3 Mm3 of wood produced (thereof 2
.6 Mm3 given to the governments) then accounting for 84% of the
province's state timber production. At the upper reaches of the Min
river, the forest rate was 30% in 1950, but now it is 16.1%. The forest
of Ganzi have been exploited later than Aba, now it has 360 Mm3 of
resources left, but only 134 Mm3 can be used and only 53 Mm3 can be
used for log production, this accounts for 14.7% of the total reserves.
In the 80s there is a little decrease in forest felling, but in 1989,
we still produced 1.92 Mm3 of timber for which 4. 6 Mm3 of reserves
were consumed. If this trend continues, in less than 20 years the
forest will be used up. We need at least 40- 50 years to renew it.
Because of heavy felling for a long time, many forest factories have no
trees to fell. In the Aba district, there are 11 forest factories and
the forest resources of 8 of them are exhausted. Thereof the Chuanxi,
Xiaojin, Dajin, Longerjia, Maoergai forest departments have no
continous forests areas left and in order to let the company survive,
there are forced to fell forest shelter walls and protection forests.
In Ganzi district, there are 7 forest departments/factories, 5 of them
have no resources left: The Wengda forest department is forced to move,
the Danba forest department is hard to support, and the Luhuo, Liqiuhe
and Xinlong departments can only function for some more five years.
(2)The second is economic difficulties. Since 1980, the forest
resources decreased sharply and the economy of the Tibetan area landed
in a predicament. In 1980, Aba district handed 1.508 Mm3 of timber to
the state, but in 1990 it decreased to 0.625 Mm3 (decrease by 58. 6%) .
The income of the local factories decreased a lot. From 1986 to 1989
the timber industry lost 52.43 million yuan, in 1987 10 of the 15
companies were having losses, the sum being 13.90 million yuan. In 1990
, that losses already were more than 50 million yuan. For example, the
Danba forestry department is making losses since 1980 and is operating
at annual losses of 2 million. The state acquisition m3 price for wood
is 200-300 Yuan below the market price and some 50 Yuan below production
price. If we consider that the state acquisiion rate of the Tibetan
area is about 0.65 Mm3, per annum the timber factories not only earn
130-195 million Yuan less than under market conditions, but also loose
32.5 million Yuan. Recently, most of the employees hired in the 50s
and 60s retired which leads to the situation that the forest companies
have now 41,500 employees and 42,000 retired people, which costs 77
million yuan of pensions per annum. Per employee this means 1. 01
persons to nourish and 1855 Yuan pension money to pay annually. In Aba
the situation is even more extreme, here we have 25,000 people in the
timber workforce feeding 30,000 retirees. From 1986 (32.22 million Yuan
) to 1989 (57.23 million Yuan) annual pension payments rose by 10. 5%
per annum.
In addition, the local governments' finances are difficult, so
that the total industry output value has been decreasing in Aba
district from 104 million yuan in 1980 to 63 million YUan in 1987. The
value of the total timber production in the total industrial output
fell from 48% in 1980 to 26% in 1987. The taxes paid by the timber
industry fell from 64% in 1980 to 34% in 1987 of the local total
revenue. New industries have not yet been developed in a large scale.
Nearly all counties in the area are depending on state subsidies.

(3) The third is the relation between resource and economic crisis.
[P58]The resource crisis caused the forestry industry's income to decrease
and the local finances became more difficult consequently. And then they
had no ability to develop new sources of income. There is no other way
to keep the local economy except over-felling. Of course, they all knew
over-felling will bring harm to the economy, the environment and the
social development. Recently, the center of the forest industry swept
from Aba district to Ganzi district, i.e. from resource crisis areas to
areas where the resources are kept a little better. In 1990, Ganzi
district had the task of providing 43.3% of the state-handed provincial
wood. And Aba's timber ndustry shifted to the two counties where the
forests are still relatively intact, i.e. Songpan and Nanping, where 0
.23 Mm3 were cut, which account for 37% of the whole district's 0. 623
Mm3. The state-handed wood in NAnping was 0.1 Mm3, accounting for 50%
of the state-handed wood quota of the district. It should be noted,
that these two counties are the origin of the Jialing and Nanping
rivers and are a famous tourist place with the "fairyland" Jiuzhaigou
and "jade lakes" at Huanglong. If the forest here continues to
disappear at a high speed, not only those two tourist places will be
loosing their charm, but also the Chengdu plain will suffer serious
harm. Furthermore, it is feared that Ganzi will become a second Aba,
having more deficient forest departments such as the Aba's notorious
"Chuanxi" or "Danba" department. But for government's sake, they must
hand in the wood and the tax to the state, there is no way to live on
unless keeping over-felling. The resource crisis caused the enterprises
and local economies many difficulties. And the economic difficulties
aggravated the resource crisis. The two factors enhance each other and
form a bad cycle.
The long time's overfelling has already brought severe
consequences to the ecology, economy and society in the Tibetan area.
It is nearly impossible to find a big tract of forest a long the sides
of the four main streams (Jinsha, Yalong, Dadu and Min rivers) .
Especially in the Dadu river valley, the forest resources were
developed relatively early, as the eight timber companies located along
it (among them the Danba, Xiaojin, Dajin, Rangtang and Wengda companies
) are lacking resources, the annual water transported wood exported
fell from 1.5 Mm3 during boom times to 0.18 Mm3 at present. The soil
erosion is serious, the flood and mud-rock flows happen often in summer
. The soil content of the water increases which brings harm to the
downstream water conservancy facilities. For example, the Gongzui
hydropower station (downstream Dadu river), constructed in 1973, has a
reservoir capacity of 350 Mm3 water. But till 1986 it has accumulated
230 Mm3 of sediment and mud, causing a production loss of 50 MW. Also
the water conserving ability of the forests is destructed, the 1981
flood in Sichuan can be traced to the forest reduction. The flood
disaster frequency in W Sichuan has risen from once in 15 years to
once in 5 years. On the other hand,the February water flow minimum in
Min river dropped to 1/42 of thelevel in the 30s.

III. How to make the Tibetan area go into a positive cycle

Due to the complexity and urgency of the crisis measures can not
only be based on the poor regional and provincial government but an
action of the state is necessary as for example is done in the "Three
North" and "Yangtse Middle Reaches" protection forests megaprojects.
[P59]. The resource flow in the past was from the forest areas to the
state and now the state should do something for the forest areas. The
following measures are recommended:
(1) The state should regard the Tibetan area as an ecological
protection forest area for the upper reaches of the Yangtse and the
Yellow river. Thus it should increase the investments to protect the
forests and reestablish a shelterbelt network.
(2) Reform the system of state-handed quotas and build a price system
for wood. The state acquisition price for wood is now 150 Yuan per m3,
far lower in than on the national free market where it is 400- 500 YUan
or the world market price of 100 US dollars. This causes huge losses to
the forest factories and they can hardly use more money to renew the
forests and they can only exploit them. And the state uses some one
billion Yuan annually import wood and wood products from foreign
countries, which also has a severe impact on the wood market. As the
contradictions in the wood market system become more apparent, cries for
reforms become louder. One possible step would be to abandon the state
quota policy. Of course, immediately abandoning the whole quota system
would cause some trouble to the state's finances and wood- using
companies but it could be done for the Sichuan Tibetan area districts
as a special treatment and a first step, as here environmental
destruction is especially severe. After the abolition of state quotas,
the wood companies would earn some 130-190 million yuan more p.a., and
this would lighten the financial burdens of most timber companies. If
it is impossible to abandon the quota system, the quota prices should
be adjusted. It is repeated, that due to low quota prices, the timber
company make a loss of 50 yuan per m3 of quota wood, this is a loss of
32.5 million yuan in the Tibetan area. The wood price has to be
adjusted so that it includes the cost for setting up and maintaining
(3) A Yangtse upper reaches protection fee could be collected. [ P60]
Huge sums are need to alleviate the damages caused by past forest
destruction. The Tibetan area does not have so much money. On the other
hand, the relatively rich provinces downstream on the Yangtse will
profit from a stable environment on its upper reaches. So I suggest
that the state collects a fee from the middle and lower Yangtse cities,
provinces and companies for the protection of the upper Yangtse forests.
(4) Some 42,000 timber industry retirees have to be nourished in the
Tibetan area. In the course of the reforms, the retirement system
should be socialized, for example the pensions for timber workers could
be organized by a founds for the whole province [ instead by each
individual timber company]. The funds could be supported by (1) a tax
could be imposed on each m3 of wood. If 10- 20 yuan pension tax were
collected for each cubic meter, with an annual timber production figure
of 4.8 Mm3 for Sichuan, this would mean 48-96 million yuan. ( 2) The
practice of paying out workers leaving the company could be abandoned.
In the last few years, more than 7000 people left the timber companies
and they were paid out with 50 million yuan. As the timber companies
now both lack qualified workforce as well as capital, the habit of
paying out workers could be abandoned; the money should be paid
into the pension funds instead. (3) The state could add some momey. The
timber workers have helped the state for a long time, so it would be
adequate if the state gave some of the pension money.
(5)The state should make the forest rights clear. The rights of forest
include many problems like exploitation and protection. As most timber
workers are Han Chinese, sometimes nationality problems arise. The
forest rights were granted in 1981, but this was done very hastily so
that many forest borders are not clear and there is much dispute
between state forest companies, collective timber companies and county
-owned timber companies often leading to overcutting and ethnic disputes
. It would be expedient to revise the forest rights from 1981 and to
redivide them more clearly between state-owned timber companies, county
timber factories and village collectives.
(6)Pick up speed to build the new economy in the Tibetan area to
substitute for the forest business. Dominant local natural resources
should be chosen. I suggest to develop animal products processing
industries, medicinal herbs processing, wood processing, hydropower and
mining as major industries. [P61] To improve these five big economic
pillars and keep the normal forest industry the government should invest
more than before during a necessary period of transition.