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Soil and Water Conservation in China  
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Xingguo County in Jiangxi Province after integrated watershed management
 
  Brief Introduction  
  China has an area of 9.6 million km2 with high land in the west and low land in the east. Mountains, hills and plateaus account for 2/3 of the total area. Out of the total area, arable land is around 135 million hectares or 14%, forestry is around 167 million hectares or 16.5%, natural grassland is 280 million hectares or 29%, fresh water body is 18 million hectares or 2%, land used for construction is 27 million hectares or 3%. The rest 35% are composed of deserts, gobies, glacier and rocky mountains which are difficult for agricultural use. Most part of China belongs to the East Asian monsoon climate with a sharp temperature difference between the north and south. It is cold and dry in winter due to the Siberia cold current, hot and rainy in summer under the effect of warm and wet monsoon from the southeast of Pacific Ocean. Most of the rain falls in July and August. The annual mean precipitation in various areas differs greatly. The annual precipitation decreases from above 1,500mm in the southeastern coastal areas to below 50mm in the inland northwest gradually. China is one of the countries suffering from most serious soil and water loss in the world.  
 
 
 
Soil and water erosion
 
 
Cause of soil erosion
 
 
Due to its special natural, geographic, social and economic conditions, soil and water loss has become a major environmental problem. Soil and water loss in China is exhibited in the following respects:

· Soils erosion is widely distributed and in large areas. According to the results of the second national remote-sensing survey released recently, the total area of soil and water loss in China is 3.56 million km2, accounting for 37% of the total national territory. This includes 1.65 million km2 affected by water and 1.91 million by wind, out of which 260,000 km2 is affected by both water and wind. It is found that the west part of China suffers the most serious soil and water loss with the largest area of 1.07 million km2, the central part with an area of 490,000 km2 and the east with an area of 90,000 km2. Soil and water loss is mainly distributed in the middle and upper reaches of the Seven Main Basins, such as the Yangtze River, Yellow River, Pearl River, Hai River etc.

· The types of erosion vary and reasons of soils erosion are complicated. Erosion caused by water, wind, freezing and thawing, and gravity such as landslides and mud-rock flows has different features and is interlinked. The Loess Plateau in the northwest, black soil zone in the northeast, red soil hills in the south, mountainous areas with both rock and earth in the north, rocky mountains in the south are mainly affected by water erosion and certain gravitational erosion. The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is mainly affected by erosion caused by freezing and thawing. The sandy area and grassland in the dry west suffer from serious wind erosion. The areas with both farming and husbandry in the semi-arid areas of the northwest are affected by the combination of both water and wind erosion.

· Serious soil loss. According to statistics, the annual soil erosion in China amounts to 5 billion tons. The total annual soil erosion in the Yangtze River basin is 2.4 billion tons, including 1.56 billion tons from the upstream. Sediment from the Loess Plateau of the Yellow River basin into the river is as much as 1.6 billion tons. The most serious soil loss occurs in 18 tributaries, located from Hekouzhen to Longmen of the Yellow River, covering an area of 78,600 km2 with the soil erosion modulus from 5,000 t·km2 to 3,0000 t·km2.
 
  Impact of soil erosion  
  Serious soil and water loss has exerted negative impact on economic and social development in China.

· The area of arable land has decreased and land is degrading. During the past 50 years or so, China has lost over 2.66 million hectares of arable land due to soil and water loss, more than 66,000 hectares every year. Around 1 million km2 of grassland has suffered from degradation, desertification and salinization, which is 50% of the national total grassland. Since the beginning of 1990s, a total area of 2,460 km2 has been desertificated every year.

· Sedimentation has made floods and water logging even worse. Sedimentation caused by soil erosion in the rivers, lakes and reservoirs has reduced the storage capacity of water projects and the flood carrying capacity of the natural river courses, which have made the floods even worse. Around 400 million tons of sediment, especially coarse sediment (diameter >0.05mm), settle in the Lower Yellow River every year, which makes the river bed rising by 8cm-10cm each year on the average and has formed the famous “perched river” resulting difficulties in flood control. One of the causes of the devastating basin-wide flood in the Yangtze River in 1998 was serious soil and water loss in the middle and upper reaches and ecological degradation, which sped up the concentration of rain runoff.

 
 

· Ecological degradation aggravates poverty. Destroy of plantation reduces the conserving capacity of water and makes soil change into sand or rock and sand storm increases. In the meantime, as the soil layer is becoming thinner and the productivity reduces, poverty is becoming more serious. Over 90% of the poor in China live in the areas with serious soil and water loss.

Apart from natural, geographic and climate conditions, human activities are also the main causes for soil and water loss, including overlogging, overfarming and overgrazing, neglect of protection during construction and development. Irrational water development and utilization is one of main factors that cause ecological and environmental degradation.

 
 
 
 
Wuqi County in Shanxi Province after natural rehabilitation
 
 
  Soil and water conservation effort
 
  Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the Chinese Government has attached great importance to soil and water conservation and accumulated valuable experience to control soil erosion by the approach of small watershed management.

In 1991, “Soil and Water Conservation Law of the People’s Republic of China” came into effect. In 1998-2000, the Master Plan of Ecological Improvement and National Guidelines for Ecological and Environmental Protection were approved by the State Council, which direct the goal for soil and water conservation and ecological improvement in the early 21st century and incorporated soil and water conservation into the strategies of sustainable development and Great Development of Western Region in China.

Recent years, a proactive fiscal policy is adopted by the Chinese Government to raise government bonds for large-scale ecological improvement project construction. In areas with serious soil and water loss in the upper Yangtze River, the middle Yellow River and area surrounded Beijing, ecological restoration projects namely key soil and water conservation demonstration sites, transformation of sloping farmland into forest, sand control and prevention are implemented.

 
 
 
 
Soil and water erosion
 
 
  Key soil conservation measures
 
 

The strategic goal for soil and water conservation is to realize sustainable utilization of soil and water resources and keep ecological environment in favorable conditions through both structural and non-structural measures, such as control of non-point pollution from chemical fertilizers and pesticides, reduction soil and water loss and sediment entering rivers, making effective use of land and water resources and increase income of farmers and popularizing the philosophy of environment-friendly and harmony between man and nature.

Emphasis should be placed on control soil and water loss via prevention and supervision. The prevention, protection and supervision should be particularly strengthened in areas of major water sources, reservoir areas, construction sites and places suffer from ecological degradation.

Integrated management approach should be applied to soil and water conservation in the upper and middle reaches of the Yangtze and Yellow rivers, black soil area in the Northeast, and sand control around Beijing and Tianjing. The practices of small watershed management and construction of check dams shall be widely extended.

Another focus is co-environment restoration. In the remote area with low population density, sufficient rainfall and less soil and water loss, the approach of forbidding farming and pasturing, and stop slope farmland cultivation for forest and grass are encouraged.

Monitoring and management information system for soil and water conservation are applied for better off survey, evaluation, monitoring and prediction of soil and water loss. National monitoring network and information system shall be built.

Public education and training will be strengthened to raise awareness of public for soil and water conservation. Participation of the whole society in soil and water conservation shall be highlighted.