China's mountainous areas explore new ways to generate wealth through green assets
After receiving a notice to move out of the mountains of Yuexi County in east China's Anhui Province where he has lived for decades, Zhang Zeren, although a little reluctantly, decided to comply.
A biodiversity conservation center is to be built in this place and a high-end ecological health and wellness industry will be developed based on the conservation center.
"Utilizing the green resources while protecting them rather than leaving them hidden deep in the mountains is an excellent approach," said Zhang, a forest ranger.
Yuexi County, which is located in the Dabie Mountains, one of China's poorest areas in the past, is emblematic of this region's progress in exploring economic development by utilizing green resources after bidding farewell to poverty.
Green is gold
During the previous spring tea harvest season, the green tea from the 220-hectare organic tea garden in Yuexi's Shifo Village snapped up twice the price of ordinary tea leaves.
"The tea industry is the pillar industry that has helped us eliminate poverty and is now helping us achieve prosperity," said Wang Jun, Party secretary of the village.
Thanks to the favorable ecological environment of the nature reserve, the tea produced in Shifo has secured both organic and green certifications and geographical indications, making the tea more profitable.
It also developed ecological tourism based on the tea industry, attracting tens of thousands of tourists each year.
In 2021, Shifo Village's average household income from tea harvest exceeded 30,000 yuan (US$4,483) and the village's collective economic income reached nearly 500,000 yuan.
In recent years, counties located in the Dabie Mountains including Yuexi, Huoshan and Jinzhai have successively become the practice and innovation base for the "two mountains" concept, according to which "lucid waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets."
Guided by this concept, different areas in the Dabie Mountains are exploring the new path of green development based on their local realities.
In Sanhe Village of Huoshan County, an important dendrobium production area, a young man named Liu Bo has established a cultivation base of this Chinese herbal medicine and growing it in isolated stone areas.
Currently, each dendrobium is sold for 200 yuan, which means a large stone with some 100 dendrobiums is worth about 20,000 yuan.
"Chinese herbal medicines, including dendrobiums, have high environmental requirements for growth. As a result of Huoshan's improving ecological environment, those stones that were once discarded have become a source of income," Liu said.
In recent years, people in the Dabie Mountains have continued to transform ecological resources into wealth. In 2021, the output value of green agriculture in Yuexi County alone reached 3.36 billion yuan, and the comprehensive tourism revenue totaled over 6 billion yuan, up 4.9 percent and 25 percent year on year, respectively.
Ecological compensation fund
As an important ecological barrier and water conservation area in Anhui Province, the Dabie Mountains with several large reservoirs is also the source of water for some cities of this province.
Every year, Meishan and Xianghongdian reservoirs alone can provide no less than 320 million cubic meters of water to the downstream cities of Lu'an and Hefei.
In order to boost the enthusiasm for protecting and improving water quality in the upstream areas, Anhui has explored the establishment of an ecological compensation mechanism in the Dabie Mountains since 2014.
Under this mechanism, counties including Jinzhai, Huoshan and other upstream water sources are eligible for compensation funds once their water protection reaches the required standard.
As of now, Jinzhai County, for example, has received nearly 300 million yuan of ecological compensation funds.
In addition to exploring the value of green resources through ecological compensation, regions in the Dabie Mountains have also constantly expanded the industrial chain and value chain of ecological products.
Relying on the high-quality water resource of Foziling Reservoir, Huoshan County has strived to build a beverage and brewing industry in recent years, and the output value of the beverage industry has increased from 3.4 billion yuan in 2018 to 5 billion yuan in 2021.
"In recent years, the demand for good water has exceeded the supply. The water here is turning into gold," said Zhu Songru, head of the county's ecological environment bureau.
To further utilize ecological resources and discover their value, regions in the Dabie Mountains actively completed the evaluation of their gross ecosystem product (GEP), which can provide an indicator for further digging the market value of ecological products and promoting the capitalization of ecological resources.
Yuexi County in Anhui Province completed its GEP evaluation at the end of 2021 and figured out a clear picture of the county's ecological resources and value. Starting this year, Huoshan County, Jinzhai County and other places have also completed their GEP evaluation one after another.
On this basis, regions in the Dabie Mountains are building a platform for the utilization and management of ecological resources, on which the management rights of ecological resources such as water, forest and negative oxygen ions have become products and can be traded through projects.
"Realizing the 'two mountains' concept needs a fundamental change in development mode, which includes the change of development elements and evaluation system," said He Bin, chief of Yuexi County.