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Forestry, Grassland and Earth


The warm and humid air current that moves from the Indian Ocean up the valleys of the rivers has nurtured large tracts of forests in southeast Tibet while in the northwest there are stretches of arid grasslands. Land fit for agriculture is located chiefly in the central part.

How much forestry is there in Tibet after all? In the past as there was not any modern instrument, no accurate computation could be made. Nor did the local Tibetan government make any such survey at all. From the end of the 70s to the beginning of the 90s, two comprehensive surveys on forestry resources were made, by the combination of satellite remote-sensing technique and ground surveying, which collected a lot of reliable data.

These data show that the area covered by forests totals 8,333, 300 hectares, about one tenth of the area of Tibet, which is 1 .2 million square kilometres, and in the last two decades there is an increase of 2,013,300 hectares.Standing timber amounts to 2,084 million cubic metres, ranking first among China's provinces and regions. At present the growth of Tibet's forestry exceeds its consumption.

As "the lungs of the earth", the ecological role of forestry is irreplaceable Tibet's forests are mostly well-preserved primaeval ones, stretching continuously, the like of which is hardly found elsewhere in the world. Rare is the vertical distribution of the vegetable communities as shown by Tibetan forests: snow- capped summit--alpine grassland -alpine bush belt--conifer belt-mixed conifer and broadleaf tree belt- subtropical rain forest.

Forestry resources provide ample possibility for Tibetan economic development but exploitation must be rational. And how to protect this treasure is especially important.

In the 50s and 60s, when people's sense of environmental protection was still weak, there were cases of excessive felling in Tibet as in other places of the whole country, causing damage to some forests. However, the main primaeval forests were kept intact. From the 70s onwards, as people's sense of environmental protection got increasingly strong, the government began to take strict steps to control felling. Take for instance Ningchi Prefecture in southeast Tibet where there are lots of forests. Now the annual felling allowed is under 200,000 cubic metres.

Meanwhile, Tibetan forestry departments, paying equal attention to felling and afforestation, have planted more and more trees with an annual investment of 13 million yuan. From the 80s onwards, the area of mountains sealed off for afforestation amounted to 133,000 hectares annually, with the cumulative wood-clad area totalling 22,000 hectares now. The stretch of land, from Xigaze through Lhasa to Zetang, along the middle reaches of the Yarlung Zangbo River, is a traditional agricultural area of Tibet. The dozens- of-kilometres long forest belt built five years ago in this area now forms an effective shelter against sandstorms and plays an active role in water and soil conservation, laying a solid basis for environmental protection.

An important feature of Tibetan forestry development is the introduction of economic forest.

Tea is an indispensable article for the life of the Tibetans.However, tea was not grown in Tibet and it had to be imported from other parts of China. In the 60s, tea bushes were successfully planted in south Tibet. Before Tibet's Democratic Reform in 1959, fruit was a luxury, which only the aristocrats could afford. And only a kind of wild peaches was grown locally. However, fruit trees of various types were subsequently planted in Lhasa, Zetang,Qamdo, Ningchi and other areas. Now there are more than a million fruit trees in Tibet, with a yearly yield of 5 million kilogrammes.

The yearly yield of nuts is 1 million kilogrammes. Apple, pear, peach, tangerine and grapes are all available for the rank and file people. The tung oil tree, of enormous economic importance, is also striking its root in the suitable areas of Tibet. Economic forests are also doing service to ecological equilibrium.

As one of China's five important pastoral areas, Tibet has 82.07 million hectares of grasslands, of which 70.77 million hectares are usable.Animal husbandry is a leading industry of Tibet, accounting for more than one third of the income of the Region's people.For this reason, the ecology of the grasslands has a direct bearing on the Tibetan economy and people's life.

Tibetan grasslands belong to the arid or semi -arid type of high- altitude frigid zone. The harsh geographical and climatic conditions have led lo the natural desertification of the pastures. And the fast-increasing cattle and sheep after the peaceful liberation of Tibet and the Democratic Reform have also brought strong pressure to bear on the grasslands . In 1993 Tibetan sheep and cattle numbered 22.8 million while in 1952 the figure was under 10 million. Large scale grazing has exacerbated the degeneration of the pastures and reduced the growth of grass, giving rise to hidden ecological troubles. However, the question has drawn the attention of the authorities. Current policy stipulates that pastures, in the same way as the land, be assigned to households of herdsmen for long-term use. To ensure proper protection and rational use of the pasturing resources, the government advises the Tibetan herdsmen to limit the number of stock, adjust its composition and practise seasonal rotation in regard to the pastures; and it also bans blind reclamation to avoid ruining the pastures. The herdsmen have gradually accepted the advice that the number of stock be fixed in keeping with the quantity of grass and the two strike a balance.

Pasture construction, chiefly including enclosure, water conservancy and artificial grass planting, is also put on the agenda. To rely on constructive projects instead of on heaven is to pass from traditional to modern mode of animal husbandry. Herdsmen, who formerly had to rove all the while for water and grass have now gradually settled or half settled. By pooling their own funds and with state subsidy, herdsmen have enclosed their best pastures for irrigation, artificial grass planting and better management so as to raise the output of grass and feed more stock. By the end of 1992, the enclosed pastures of the Autonomous Region amounted to 544,500 hectares with an irrigated area of 174,000 hectares. Rats, pests and poisonous herbs had been wiped out from a total area of 1 ,345,700 hectares, easing the degeneration of the pastures to a certain measure.

From the winter of 1989 to the spring of 1990, a blizzard, the worst in 100 years, swept the leading Tibetan animal husbandry base, Qangtang Grasslands in north Tibet, killing the stock in great numbers.With the aid of the central government and other local authorities in the country, Tibetans made great effort to combat the natural calamity with the result that not a single person died and the misery that would have been inevitable in the old society was avoided. In the few years after the blizzard, through pasture construction, animal husbandry in north Tibet was fully recovered. Moreover, animal husbandry base that could cope with any natural disaster was built with an investment of 40 million yuan from the State, the collectives and individuals.

Agriculture in Tibet is forging ahead steadily. Grain output in 1993, the sixth straight year of rich harvest, reached a record 620 million kilogrammes, or four times that in the first years of the 50s,when annual grain output was 155 million kilogrammes.Agricultural development has been achieved while there was no increase whatever of arable land. Credit was entirely due to more scientific methods and improved agricultural ecology.

Tibet now has 225,000 hectares of cultivated land, all of which are free from industrial pollution. The traditional, extremely backward farming methods, such as "two oxen yoked abreast", "slash and burn", were abandoned. Instead, modern methods were introduced :improved seeds were used, soil amelieorated, water conservancy projects built, water courses harnessed, intensive cultivation practised and chemical fertilizer rationally applied. Before the 50s, there were but a few watercourses in Tibet, which were all in Shannan and Xigaze areas, so agriculture had to rely entirely on ''heaven'' for harvest. However, now reservoirs, motor- pumped wells, irrigation pumping stations, canals and flood control enbankments have formed a network on the Roof of the World, keeping 60 per cent of its cultivated land properly irrigated. Reliable agricultural harvests, of course, first benefit the Tibetan farmers and herdsmen, who account for 80 per cent of the local population. In Gyangze, which ranks first in agriculture in Tibet, grain stock in many households is enough to last them three to five years.

The middle reaches of the Yarlung Zangbo River, the Lhasa River and the Nyang Qu River, with dense population, better natural conditions and relatively developed economy in Tibet, represent the cradle of Tibetan culture.The project for the comprehensive agricultural development along these three rivers, which involves the biggest investment by the central government for Tibetan agriculture, has been proceeding since 1991 . The project, as a key item in the State Eighth Five- Year Plan and Ten-Year Programme, will take 10 years and spend more than 2 billion yuan to complete.It is a system of comprehensive development consisting of more than 260 related items in farming, forestry, animal husbandry, water conservancy, hydropower, transport and science and technology. It will enable agriculture in the heartland of Tibet to improve greatly by the end of this century.

The project, in the last analysis, is a system aimed at the improvement of agricultural ecology. Experts have considered first of all the advantages it would give to the environment. Through remote-sensing and information technique, the ecology of the middle reaches of the three rivers has been closely monitored. With the completion of a number of water conservancy projects and the betterment of large tracts of low yielding land, an additional 22,000 hectares of farmland, pasture and woods are assured of irrigation, making it possible to produce an additional 5 million kilogrammes of grain, 500,000 kilogrammes of vegetables and 300,000 kilogrammes of meat. Besides, a total of 5, 500 hectares of land has been afforested. The completion of the project on drinking water for Xaitongmoin County in Xigaze Prefecture put an end to the days when the local people, numbering about 2, 500 now, had to drink water heavily charged with fluorine.

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