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TIN Testimonies. Tibet Information Network, August 17, 2004.

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TIN Testimonies, launched 10 November 2003, provides first-hand accounts to complement our reports and illustrate more fully the impact upon individuals in Tibet of policies and social change in the area. They are drawn from edited and summarised interviews provided by our overseas researchers.

TIN Testimonies on 17 August 2004

'Give up land, plant trees' campaign gains momentum throughout Tibetan areas Under the banner 'Give up Land, Plant Trees', a campaign is underway, where large numbers of trees are being planted in counties all over the Tibetan plateau, including areas of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai.

The campaign is sometimes linked to the Western Development Drive [See 'China's Great Leap West' Published by TIN on 27 November 2000: http://www.tibetinfo.co.uk/publications/bbp/chinas_great_leap_west.htm

The Chinese language media emphasise the statistics relating to the numbers of trees planted, the amount of land used and the levels of participation, as well as the alleged enthusiasm, of local people but fail to mention details about the previous land use. Reports from Tibetans living in eastern Tibetan prefectures such as Malho, Kannan, Ngaba, Kardze, Lhasa Municipality and Chamdo give evidence of the compulsorily planting of trees and scrub on farmland that would otherwise be used for the cultivation of wheat and barley. These reports consistently emphasise that the government promises compensation in grain supplies and an amount of money for a period of at least 5 years. Invariably when asked though, people express a deep concern for the survival of their traditional livelihoods. They fear that the move might be linked to discrete pressure from the authorities to reduce the rural population in certain areas, (See TIN news Update on 01 September 2003: Lhasa Prefecture encourages rural migration for "building a middle-class society" http://www.tibetinfo.net/news-updates/2003/0109.htm) or that they may have to pay for the protection of Chinese cities downstream against flooding due to past environmental destructions for which the Tibetan rural population is not responsible.

Some younger people point out the benefits of receiving grain without having to do the labour-intensive work in the fields, but how the loss of income will be compensated on a long term remains unclear. Reports from various regions indicate though that some care is being taken to ensure some sort of income generation from the land - by planting fruit bearing trees, by promising villagers the right to use some of the timber grown or to suggest additional activities such as the growing and collection of herbs for medical purposes.

Recently, it has also been reported from a number of areas that nomads are encouraged to plant trees on pastures and, in some cases, to take certain areas out of production in order to boost populations of wild animals such as the wild yak. While tree plantation schemes have been reported since the beginning of Chinese rule in Tibet, often as rural corvee labour activities and sometimes as work assignments for prisoners, the authorities have extracted, and encouraged the extraction of, large amounts of timber from traditionally heavily forested areas in the Southeast of the TAR and Tibetan Autonomous Prefectures and counties in Sichuan, Yunnan, Qinghai and Gansu. The dramatic floods that hit China in 1998 however, forced the authorities to look at more drastic measures of soil conservation and the protection of forests, and led to calls for a ban on logging in many Tibetan areas. Unofficial reports from Tibet do indicate that in many areas organised logging decreased or that stricter measures were taken to discourage logging by local villagers.

Around the same period, the first reports emerged of local authorities in various parts of Gansu, Qinghai and Sichuan starting to inform farmers about the need to convert part of their farmland into forest. Farmers who planted trees and scrub in certain parts of their farms were promised grain donations based on the number of mu (1 mu = 0.16466 acres; 0.066 hectares.) planted for five years. At the same time, the number of reports on extensive tree plantation campaigns in many parts of Tibet has been increasing. Typically, the Chinese media emphasises the enthusiastic involvement of local communities, including local cadres, and sometimes use the reporting of this involvement as a component of 'education of the masses. A report from the Tibet Daily of 05 February 2004 on the tree plantation schemes in Tengchen County, Chamdo Prefecture, gave the following impression:

"In order to increase green areas, and in order to change the biological environment, Tengchen County actively guides the nomads and farmers to plant trees. Tengchen County used the spare time of nomads and farmers after the time of collecting crops and before the busy time of spring, and organised the masses, without interfering in their usual lives, in order to dig holes [for trees] and to repair the water canals. The shen, [County, the middle-level administrative unit (Ch: xian)] in a unified way, purchased tree seeds and provided them to the shangs [Township/District, the lower-level administrative unit, formerly covering a township, but in rural areas covering a group of villages (Ch: xiang)] and towns for the tree planting festival. The cadres and staffs are in action planting trees in their holiday time and every Friday they water the trees. From the lower level staff and cadres to the district head, they all bring equipment and attend planting tree activities and they basically guarantee the survival of the trees."

A district head from Qinghai described to TIN the introduction of this scheme. "A new policy reached our area [around 1999-2000] that states that trees have to be planted on farmland for environmental protection and the construction of forest habitats. We are, however, suspicious about the real motives. There is actually a lot of uncultivated land in our district on which no trees are planted, while the public are made to plant trees on their own land. The government says that as long as the trees grow, farmers will be compensated with 200 gyama of grains [1 gyama = 500 grammes] plus RMB50 [Approx. US$6.00; Euro 4.70; UK£3.17] yearly for each mu of land for 5 years to come."

Q: What reason is given for this scheme?

A: "They say that it is for environmental protection. They say that excessive cutting down of trees in the higher areas caused floods and natural calamities in China; they are now planting trees."

Q: When did they start planting trees?

A: "They made contracts in November 1999 and started to make people plant trees from March and April 2000."

Q: Are fields still being cultivated?

A: "Some fields are being cultivated. A small percentage of the fields are being cultivated. For example, in our district, we have to ensure that 50 percent of the farmland is planted with trees. Our fields are high fields, so fruit-bearing trees don't grow. Therefore, willows, poplars and grass are planted."

Q: Whose responsibility is this work?

A: "This is the responsibility of the district head and the party secretary."

Q: What do the public think about the planting of forest on farmland?

A: "Actually, not long ago, the government made contracts with the farmers stating that concerned farmers had rights over the farmland for 30 years. They gave a small booklet as a contract in the hands of the common people. When the government announced the new policy, the people made complaints to the district administration and they took it up with the county administration who stated that this was a policy from the centre which could not be opposed."

Q: What will be the effect on the livelihoods of the farmers if they plant the trees?

A: "There is the 200 gyama of grain (100kg) for each mu of land (1 mu = 0.16466 acres; 0.066 hectares.) planted, per year, for 5 years. What will happen after that; I don't know. The contract is for 5 years. They say they will provide 200 gyama [100kg] of grain and 50 yuan (GB£3.31; Euro; 5.00; US$6.00) yearly for each mu of land."

Q: Where does the grain they distribute come from?

A: "They bring it from China."

Q: How much gyama of grain does a mu of land normally produce in your area?

A: "Over 250 gyama (125kg) of grain is produced per mu (Approx. 1875kg per hectare) in our area."

A member of a county-level Political Consultative Congress stated the following: "For three years, people have been directed to plant trees on certain amounts of land each year. If a family has 20 to 30 mu of cultivable land, then this year they have to plant trees in 5 to 6 mu [0.33-0.39 hectares; 0.8-0.98 acres] of their land. Then next year they have to plant trees in another 5 to 6 mu of their land. It will put an end to our crop growing. They give 300 gyama [150kg] of grain for one mu of land in return each year. They will provide this for about three to four years. Afterwards we don't know what will happen - we cannot eat trees and it will be difficult to eke out a living."

Q: What do the people feel?

A: "They see sorrow and suffering but no one dares to speak out."

Q: What trees do they plant?

A: "They plant bushes. There are some trees but they say that bushes grow quickly."

Q: Are the farmers given anything in return?

A: "They [the authorities] said that they would give 300 gyama of grain for one mu of cultivable land that was already planted."

Q: Were the problems with the tree plantations brought up during sessions of the Congress?

A: "It was talked about during sessions of the Congress. There is a time when they make various suggestions and during such a time they put forward the suggestions. However, no changes could be introduced. Representatives made many suggestions. They said, "If such an extensive amount of land is planted with trees, then people will die from starvation". They said, "It won't work here if we have to think about the nation [China] because we actually depend on our fields and this tree plantation scheme will ruin us". However, they were told that it was an order from the government." A farmer from Rebgong tells of the tree plantation scheme in his area: "People in all 6 villages in our district in Rebgong Tongren County, people in all the 6 villages are made to plant 'Lakhi' thorn bushes and pine trees [Tib: thangma]. The thorn bushes are of no use. This work started around 1998.

At our home, we have 24 mu [3.95 acres; 1.6 hectares] of farmland. We were made to plant thorn bushes on 10 mu [1.6 acres; 0.66 hectares]. The thorn bushes and trees are planted randomly and are mixed, but the trees don't grow properly. The thorn bushes and grass grow well. The areas where these were planted were fenced off [by the authorities]. In return for this, the government gives 200 gyama [100 kg] of barley per mu of land. People say that after 8 years, they won't give this but I am not sure about that. You have to plant these things - you can't refuse. I don't remember which office is in charge of this planting, but it is the district administration that is always putting pressure on us to comply with this. They measure where you should plant these bushes and trees and where you can plant your crops. They say that this is for the development of the district, for water conservation and to have more rain. Generally, most of the non-irrigated land is planted with bushes and trees in this way. I don't think any of the irrigated fields are used for tree plantations. This year, Tongren has started to plant in forests in the mountains east of the county. They also completed the construction of a road there. They say that they intend to turn it into a tourist destination eventually.

People say that the government said that it would be possible to plant medicinal plants on the land that is planted with trees, but the elderly people say that it is not necessary to do that, that it is not necessary to spoil the land for that reason." A female farmer from a rural area in northeast Amdo, near Gansu told TIN about the changes in her village during the last two years:

Q: What do you grow in your field?

A: "We grow wheat, barley, peas, 'yug go' [A grass that can be used as fodder for animals] and these days, the Chinese make us grow trees and scrub. They make us grow the scrub that we find in the mountains. We grow it in the fields where we usually grow barley etc."

Q: Who makes you grow the grasses?

A: "The government make us grow it. It is compulsory and all the people have to grow it. Some families have to grow 'yug go' and some have to plant trees. Then some have to grow scrub. My family has to plant trees."

Q: Where do you plant the trees?

A: "You have to plant the trees in your fields. The Chinese force us to plant trees although we told them that we wouldn't plant them. You have to plant them by yourself. They come to inspect your work after you have planted the trees. They come to see whether you have planted trees in your field or not. There are normally no Chinese people in our area. They come from Kanlho [Chi: Gannan] Prefecture. If the trees you have planted dry out, you have to plant again. You don't have to plant more trees if the ones that you planted are growing. You only have to plant two fields with the trees. [In our case this means that] we have to plant 100 or 200 trees."

Q: Do they provide any money for growing the trees?

A: "The shen county administration gives 1000 gyama [500kg] of rice each year to each family." A farmer from Chamdo told TIN about his experiences.

Q: Where are you from?

A: "I am from Chamdo [Chin: Changdu] Prefecture, Markham [Chin: Mangkang] County, Bumnag village.

Q: What crops did you produce?

A: "We are mixed nomads/farmers. We have 11 people at my home. Each year we have to plant three trees per person. You can plant them wherever you want. We plant radish, barley and peas on our farmland, and also some vegetables."

Q: Is the tree planting programme taking place in your area?

A: "They haven't announced any programme to plant trees on our farmland. But I saw in the area called Jongre Plain [in our county], which is a desert-like land, where there is a road. There they are planting a lot of thorn bushes; short thorn bushes."

Q: Do you know what the authorities plan to do?

A: "According to what I heard, they will plant thorn bushes in all the counties under Chamdo Prefecture, but so far, no one has announced anything in our county. We all have good livelihood in our area, we don't collect caterpillar fungus [the collection of caterpillar fungus is widespread in many parts of Tibet where it provides a much-needed side-income] but we do pick mushrooms.

A monk from Lithang County told TIN: "It has been three years since they began planting thorn bushes, grass and trees on farmland in our county. There is a village called Yulgo. They say that they made a lot of profit from planting thorn bushes and grass because they have a lot of empty land that is not normally used, apart from for grazing animals but where there are no fields. They planted thorn bushes, grass and trees there, and gave the villagers barley. According to the district head, they plan to do this for 8 years. I saw the place called Zhijon. They planted a lot of thorn bushes there. At our home, we have 8 mu (1.32 acres; .53 hectares) of land in total, but there is no one apart from my father and me because the other family members are not there anymore [moved away or died]."

"I am in the monastery and I keep my father in the monastery too, so we normally don't plant crops in our fields; we rent it out to other people. So for us it is great because we get barley without having to do any work for it. So for us, it is great. They give 200 gyama of barley per mu of land." "However, the district head said that after 8 years, we wouldn't be able to cut down and uproot the trees. Otherwise, some people thought, "This is great, we will take the barley for 8 years and then cut the trees and reclaim our fields again". "The people then said that if they aren't given the barely in the future, then they will cut down the trees planted on their land. The seeds for the thorn bushes, grass and trees come from China. They are supplied to the county administration and they then distribute them to the districts. Then the districts distribute them amongst the people." "We actually only planted thorn bushes and grass in our fields, not trees, because they gave 5 to 6 trees per person to plant and they paid us for planting them. We planted them along roads and on the hillsides; you could plant them wherever you wanted. Our monastery asked us to give the trees to them and then they planted many of them around the monastery.

I visited the following districts: Lamkha village, Gawa village, Mola village and Nabo village in Lithang County and they planted a lot of thorn bushes on the farm fields in these areas. I think around 80 per cent don't like the planting of these thorn bushes. They say that in the short term, it is easy, they will get barley for 8 years, but their concern is that afterwards they won't get anything. They say that earlier they got 115 yuan and now they get only 80 yuan. So the value of barley is going down [It is unclear as to what amount of barley the interviewee is talking about].

Right now, I regret it and I now don't think it is a good campaign."

The Tibet Information Network (TIN) is an independent news and research service that provides information and analysis of the current political, economic, social,environmental and human rights situation in Tibet.

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