Experts’ perceptions of the sloping land conversion program in the Loess Plateau, China

Qu, M., et al., 2017. Land Use Policy

Original research (primary data)
View External Publication Link


China’s Sloping Land Conversion Program (SLCP) is the world’s largest payment for ecosystem services program for improving ecological conditions and farmers’ livelihood. Communicating the SLCP outcomes across diverse stakeholder groups in ecological, socio-economic, political and institutional contexts can facilitate the effective implementation of the new round of the SLCP. Experts from various fields involved in the SLCP have developed good connections with governments, agencies, and farmers; therefore they can play an invaluable role in informing urgent policy changes. This study is based upon 24 interviews with the SLCP experts with the aims of assessing their perceptions of ecological, economic, political and social impacts of the SLCP on the Loess Plateau of China, and then gathering their policy recommendations to ensure that the new round of the SLCP would be implemented efficiently. Content analysis based on the grounded theory is used in present study. Judging from expert-based consensual statements from this study’s interviews, the main concerns about the first round of the SLCP on the Loess Plateau are that the dramatic increase in the farmer’s income and livelihood is mainly from off-farm sources rather than the SLCP subsidy, that equitable government compensation is dependent on the outcome of the SLCP, that the aggressive SLCP causes soil drought which have negative effects on ecological restoration, and that the stakeholders’ interaction could be improved. Based on the analyses of the experts’ interviews, the recommendations are summarised as follows: strengthening the farmers’ environmental awareness and vocational skills, establishing multi-source financial supports and flexible compensation mechanisms, establishing participatory planning that requires stakeholder involvement especially farmers and insisting that scientific studies on the ecological restoration of the Loess Plateau must be shared with local governments and farmers.

Case studies

Basic information

  • Case ID: INT-198-1
  • Intervention type: Created habitats
  • Intervention description:

    In 1999, the Chinese government initiated a pilot phase of the Sloping Land Conversion Program, SLCP, in the Loess Plateau to reverse the environmental deterioration while transforming the structure of the rural economy and improving farmers’ livelihood. With 4.83 M ha of croplands converted to forests, shrubs or grasslands on the Loess Plateau by 2008, the landscape and the asso- ciated regional ecosystem services have changed dramatically. The SLCP is a typical payment for ecosystem services program and its main objective is to improve ecological conditions and rural households’ livelihood.

  • Landscape/sea scape ecosystem management: Yes
  • Climate change impacts Effect of Nbs on CCI Effect measures
    Reduced water availability  Negative no specific measure - qualitative evidence generated from interviews with experts and then "adopted content analysis in this study to grasp the nuanced heterogeneity of experts’ opinions and attitudes"
    Biomass cover loss  Mixed results no specific measure - qualitative evidence generated from interviews with experts and then "adopted content analysis in this study to grasp the nuanced heterogeneity of experts’ opinions and attitudes"
  • Approach implemented in the field: Yes
  • Specific location:

    Entire Loess plateau - The Loess Plateau is located in the middle and upper reaches of the Yellow River, covering an area of 630,000 km2 (Fig. 1)

  • Country: China
  • Habitat/Biome type: Created forest | Created grassland | Created other |
  • Issue specific term: Payment for Ecosystem Services


  • Notes on intervention effectivness: Effectiveness determined from interviews with experts on their perceptions of the impacts of the interventions on the outcome measures BIO_CV: "During the interview, all experts used terms or phases such as “a great success”, “a dramatically better situation” and “improvements and increase in the vegetation cover” to highlight the ecological achievements of the SLCP in the Loess Plateau. However, some of the experts thought the weaknesses of the SLCP should not be disregarded....In one example presented by one expert, there were 32,000 ha of trees planted in the Baota district of Shaanxi Province, and 90% of the trees planted were Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia). Several years after planting, the survival rates were re- latively low in areas converted from croplands such as barren hills, “liang”, and “mao”. In some places, survival rates were close to zero." RED_WSUP: "A common ecological phenomenon mentioned by all experts was that Black Locusts needed a large amount of water to reach its maximum growth, but the rainfall was very limited in this region. Hence, Black Locust plantations caused irreversible dry soil layers, which would damage the vegetation regeneration and decrease the effect of the ve- getation on soil and water conservation." unclear social outcomes because the authors don't make any conclusions one way or the other, they mostly focus on suggested improvements that would help social outcomes further
  • Is the assessment original?: Yes
  • Broadtype of intervention considered: Not applicable
  • Compare effectivness?: No
  • Compared to the non-NBS approach: Not applicable
  • Report greenhouse gas mitigation?: No
  • Impacts on GHG: Not applicable
  • Assess outcomes of the intervention on natural ecosystems: No
  • Impacts for the ecosystem: Not reported
  • Ecosystem measures:
  • Assess outcomes of the intervention on people: Yes
  • Impacts for people: Unclear
  • People measures: income improvements (but not specified in monetary value therefore not economic)
  • Considers economic costs: No
  • Economic appraisal conducted: No
  • Economic appraisal described:
  • Economic costs of alternative considered: No
  • Compared to an alternative: Not reported

Evaluation methodology

  • Type of data: Qualitative
  • Is it experimental: No
  • Experimental evalution done: Not applicable
  • Non-experimental evalution done: Empirical case study
  • Study is systematic: