• land conversion;
  • land use;
  • afforestation;
  • land use functions;
  • Grain for Green Project;
  • ex-ante impact assessment;
  • sustainable development;
  • stakeholder participation


The goal of China's sloping land conversion programme (SLCP) is to combat soil erosion and to reduce rural poverty. An ex-ante assessment of possible SLCP impacts was conducted with a focus on rural sustainability, taking the drought-prone region of Guyuan in Western China as an example. The Framework for Participatory Impact Assessment (FoPIA) was used to conduct two complementary impact assessments, one assessing SLCP impacts at regional level and a second one assessing alternative forest management options, to explore possible trade-offs among the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainability. Regional stakeholders assessed the SLCP to be capable of reducing soil erosion but felt it negatively affected rural employment, and a further continuation of the Programme was advocated. Assessment of three forest management scenarios by scientists showed that an orientation towards energy forests is potentially beneficial to all three sustainability dimensions. Ecological forests had disproportionate positive impacts on environmental functions and adverse impact on the other two sustainability dimensions. Economic forests were assessed to serve primarily the economic and social sustainability dimensions, while environmental impacts were still tolerable. The FoPIA results were evaluated against the available literature on the SLCP. Overall, the assessment results appeared to be reasonable, but the results of the regional stakeholders appeared to be too optimistic compared with the more critical assessment of the scientists. The SLCP seems to have the potential to tackle soil erosion but requires integrated forest management to minimize the risk of water stress while contributing to economic and social benefits in Guyuan. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.