Chinas conversion of cropland to forest program (CCFP)

China’s Conversion of Cropland to Forest Program: Evaluating the environmental and livelihood impacts of the world’s largest afforestation-based payment for ecosystem services.

Lead reviewer: Lucas Gutiérrez-Rodríguez, CIFOR
Other collaborating institutions: Forestry Economics and Development Research Center (FEDRC), Beijing; Forest Trends

Systematic review: Environmental Evidence 2016, 5:21
Systematic review protocol: Environmental Evidence 2015, 4:6


Farming on sloping lands has historically led to forest loss and degradation in China, which coupled with unsustainable timber extraction activities, was deemed responsible for catastrophic flooding events in the late 1990s. These events led to the introduction of forest policies targeting ecological conservation and rural development in China, a process epitomized by the launch of the conversion of cropland to forest program (CCFP) in 1999. This systematic review responds to the question: What are the environmental and socioeconomic effects of China’s Conversion of Cropland to Forest Program after the first 15 years of implementation?


Based on the published review protocol, we searched for English language studies published between 1999 and 2014. From an initial literature search that produced 879 results, 43 studies were found to be eligible for inclusion following screening and quality assessment; these included four national-level studies, seven regional-level studies, and 32 county-level (or below) studies. The majority of studies were published after 2009 and evaluated impacts within the first 5 years of CCFP implementation, such that the long-term impacts of the program remain open for further investigation.


A skewed temporal and geographic distribution of the examined studies limits the generalizability of the results, though the evidence base confirms a substantial increase in forest cover and associated carbon stocks linked to reallocation of sloping agricultural land to forest. To some degree, soil erosion has been controlled and flood risk reduced at local scales. Meanwhile, household incomes have increased and rural employment has turned towards off-farm sectors. However, some studies demonstrate instances of diminished food security and increasing social inequality. Finally, several studies indicate suboptimal trade-offs between specific ecosystem services, including carbon sequestration vs. water discharge rates, flood control vs. riparian soil replacement, and forest productivity vs. biodiversity.


Additional research on long-term environmental impacts and program effects in understudied regions, particularly southern and western provinces, is necessary. In terms of recommendations for future research on the CCFP, there is a significant need to examine confounding factors, ideally through the selection of matching control groups to CCFP participants, and to ensure that sampling methodologies are more representative of selected study sites and the overall targeted area. There remain many opportunities to assess specific socioecological effects, upon which to base future policy decisions and more broadly inform ecological restoration and eco-compensation in both theory and practice.

© National Forestry Economics and Development Research Center (FEDRC)

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