The Effects of China's Grain-for-Green Program on the Dynamics of Coupled Natural-Human System in Rural China

Perverse economic effects can create strong negative feedbacks between natural and human systems. For example, short-term, fine-scale, net economic benefits from uses of natural resources that compromise the future supply of related resources can reduce long-term, large-scale economic benefits. Numerous governmental programs have effectively tested the hypothesis that such negative feedbacks can be eliminated with economic counter-incentives, but few if any of these programs have been suitable for and subjected to the rigorous scientific analysis needed to determine the true results of the test and help generalize results. This project will analyze what is probably the largest program within the most widely used type of counter-incentive, the Sloping Lands Conversion Program of China, a program of payment for environmental services. Under this program, the government pays farmers to convert cropland on sloping or otherwise ecologically sensitive areas to forest or grassland. Researchers will survey farmers and local governmental agencies in three provinces to determine how the program was implemented and affected the decisions of farmers, detect changes in land cover using satellite imagery, and model carbon storage and water availability based on field measurements. 

Results of this project will be of great value to policy makers and land use managers in the U.S., where similar programs have been tried and are envisioned in the context of ecological restoration and protection. The research also will help inform the global discourse on reducing carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. This project will strengthen scientific collaboration in both social and natural science between the U.S. and China, and train numerous undergraduate and graduate students.

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