The forest area in the world decreased from 4.12 billion hectares in 1990 to 3.99 billion hectares in 2015, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). In contrast, China's forest coverage rate has increased by 10 percent since 1999 when China started returning farmland to forest.
The increasing forest coverage rate shows the Chinese Government's prioritizing of environmental protection.
The forest coverage rate of Wuqi County in northwest China's Shaanxi Province increased from 19.2 percent in 1997 to 72.9 percent this year. This area had previously been identified by the FAO as not possessing the basic conditions for sustaining human life.
Wuqi is only a microcosm of China's achievement in its project of returning farmland to forest.
In the project's new round launched in 2014, China's vast central and western regions have not only grown greener but found new ways to boost their economies. Trees have become valuable resources, dubbed "green gold," for impoverished populations in these regions.
For instance, in Chishui City of southwest China's Guizhou Province which used to be a national-level poverty-stricken county, farmland was turned into bamboo forests, which were then used to develop papermaking, furniture and food industries. Herbs are grown and chickens are raised under the bamboo trees to generate more income. Farmers there have found a sustainable source of income and the county became the first in Guizhou to get rid of poverty.
(This is an edited excerpt of an article published in Oriental Outlook on May 10)