Special Interview — Breathing New Life into Forests

Desertification Prevention Project in China

China Reforestation Project Overview

For 10 years since 2001, 4 partners of Chinese Academy of Science, Hebei Province Forestry Bureau / Fengning County Forestry Bureau, NPO Green Earth Center, and Toyota Motor Corporation have been working on a joint project between Japan and China, the Desertification Prevention Project in Fengning Manzu Autonomous County, Hebei Province.

The project was carried out in three phases. Phase 1 (April 2001 to March 2004) was primarily tree-planting. In Phase 2 (April 2004 to March 2007), dairy cattle breeding was introduced as an answer to the overgrazing of livestock (goats), a primary cause of the desertification. Finally, in Phase 3 (April 2007 to March 2011), training of green technical personnel and transmitting information of green technology were conducted.

While planting 3.87 million seedlings on 3,000ha of land in 10 years, a model that sustained activity was established so that local government and people was able to continue this activity even after the project.

Junko Kunitomo

Assistant Manager
Forest Conservation Group
Greening Technology Development Department
Biotechnology & Afforestation Business Division
Doctor of Agriculture
(Interviewed in 2011)

Problems Facing Desertification Areas

Yoshiaki Ishii

Forest Conservation Group
Greening Technology Development Department
Biotechnology & Afforestation Business Division
Doctor of Agriculture

In an area close to Beijing, China, there has been a problem of grassland and forest desertification due mainly to the overgrazing of goats. Recently spreading damage from the dissemination of yellow sand became a news even in Japan.

As a part of our social contributions, Toyota started tree planting to help recover the green areas where desertification was in progress to improve the regional environment.

When I visited the site for the first time and saw a house filled with sand, I felt the suffering of the local residents. I remember promising to myself at that moment to absolutely succeed in this project.

Herd of grazing animals

Xiaobazi before the project started

Desert looming up the road

House buried in the sand

Success in Project

As our first phase, we focused on planting trees. At the time of tree planting, we planted tree species recommended by the Forestry Bureau, but available species were in limited supply and their survival rate was poor. We asked to select more appropriate tree species and increase their diversity. From the second phase, we improved the selection of plantable trees to those which are more economically sound, including those that bear fruit and medicinal herbs that could be sold.

In the first year, we planted apricot trees, which take 5-6 years to yield fruit. I knew even then they would take root and grow, but when the trees began to actually bear apricots in 2005, I was nonetheless relieved and filled with a surge of joy at the same time.

Apricot fruit

As we continued with the project, we started communicating with the local residents. We found out that most of their livelihoods were dependent on nature — for example, via livestock grazing and apricot harvesting. We were concerned that it would go back to desertification if we solely kept planting trees, since they would likely return to a life that depends on grazing after Toyota finished with their support.

Dairy cows were introduced in 2004 as livestock Alternatives because they can be kept without grazing. Additionally, dairy cows have an ongoing revenue benefit from milk; but that transition couldn't be done immediately because of the initial high cost. For that reason, the project loaned them interest-free funds to purchase the cows. In addition to that, residents would cultivate and mow the grass to keep grazing under control.

The loaned money was paid back in less than three years. Afterwards, the project loaned to other residents with the same conditions. Ultimately, there was a definite benefit derived even with a limited amount of resources to continually maintain the operations for the project.

Continued Activities to Improve Residents' Lifestyles

As a mechanism to support reforestation and economy for the residents' futures, the Forestry Bureau pooled 30% of the revenue as a reforestation fund. With that fund, the Forestry Bureau was able to continue with the tree planting by themselves.

The income of the local residents increased 1.5 times more compared to before the project's launch.

The project also monitored the changes in the environment through reforestation. After the plantation, the movement of sand has stopped. Local residents tell us, "Thank you! We no longer have to remove sand around the house." That, specifically, really makes me feel good that I'm working on this project.

Human Resource Development as the Key to Success

Typically projects such as these only get financial support from companies, but Toyota is not only involved with funding. Toyota allocates dedicated personnel, and we have actually been an active part of this project for 10 years and have visited the sites over 40 times. Accordingly, I think we need to continually pursue the projects at the actual site thoroughly and stay involved in related social action programs as well.

For the first 2 years, there were so many things we couldn't communicate well with those involved. For example, in order to keep the project on schedule, we carried out a PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Action) thoroughly, but the Forestry Bureau was completely surprised at first (laughs). At first, it was hard for them to comprehend a plan, execute it, check on it and take responsive measures. We instructed them to follow our plan up to a certain point while we would be back in Japan. However, once we returned, steps weren't carried out to the correct point. Sometimes, the plan had even been altered without us knowing. This surprised us all. Nonetheless, things have improved over the years, with the Forestry Bureau eventually gaining a deeper understanding of our methods. And the training and exhibition facility, which was established in 2008, is progressing well with each successive step.

As a side note, while visiting the sites, we all shared Baijiu, a local strong alcohol. Actually, it was more like they made me drink! I think it is universal to drink and talk about our real opinions at the same time; and it contributes in building a trustworthy relationship.

The training and exhibition facility

Drinking Baijiu with local staff

Continuance of Reforestation Activities

Toyota's direct involvement ended in March 2011, but the activities were taken over by TMCI (Toyota Motor (China) Investment Co., Ltd.), a subsidiary of Toyota, in August.

I think we have received positive evaluation from our 10 years of activity. Areas of desertification have been regenerated to a forest and the lives of the local residents have been improved. That's what this project accomplished.

In 2006, we also received special recognition, the Corporate Philanthropy Award. This award changed the view of our co-workers and it even served as a benefit for us as our motivation increased.

Toyota and TMCI have recruited the employees who would go on to volunteer for reforestation activities in our project areas. These volunteers tend to be repeaters. Honestly, I think it is good that we have a place for local residents and the volunteer employees to interact.

Reforestation activities by volunteer employees

The subsequent Philippine Reforestation Project aimed at greater efficiency from the experience and know-how we gained in China.
Find out more

Rainforest Restoration Project in the Philippines

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