China’s impressive forest regrowth

China is the fifth most forest rich country on the planet with more than 200 million hectares of forest. This is about 4 times more than Bolivia, which is the 15th country in the World in terms of forest extension (see Figure 1). 

Figure 1: Forest extension for the World’s top 20 forest countries, 2007
Source: Author’s elaboration based on the now free
World Development Indicators from the World Bank (1).

Still, considering the size of the Chinese population (1.3 billion), forest is very scarce in China, with an average of only 0.16 hectares per person (Bolivia has 40 times more forest per person than China). Therefore China has embarked on a massive reforestation project, with the consequence that the forest area in China has been growing by about 4 million hectares per year during the period 2004-2007 (see Figure 2).

While forests are also growing in United States, India and Sweden, the scale is nothing like China. Indeed, China is reforesting faster than all the countries in South America together are deforesting.


Figure 2: Annual change in forest area 2004-2007 for the World’s top 20 forest countries
Source: Author’s elaboration based on the now free
World Development Indicators from the World Bank

Given the rapid economic growth in China, how has it been possible for them to reverse the pressure on their forests? Easy: They decided to import wood from abroad rather than further run down their own wood stocks. A large part of deforestation in nearby Indonesia is due to wood demand from China, and China is even importing massive amounts of wood from Bolivia, located about as far away from China as possible on this Earth. Wood exports from Bolivia to China have increased by a factor of 200 during the last 10 years, and China now accounts for more than 30% of Bolivian wood exports (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: Annual wood exports from Bolivia to China, 1999-2009

Source: Author’s elaboration based on the excellent trade database
freely available at the website of the National Statistical Institute in Bolivia

Selling wood to China is not a bad idea – it is certainly better than just burning the forest to make room for agriculture. There is considerable potential for growth in that market, so Bolivia ought to support and regulate the forestry sector with well-designed policies. A lot of jobs and incomes can be generated in this sector, especially if we export processed wood products instead of raw timber, and if we secure that the wood is harvested in a sustainably fashion and that regrowth is supported by adequate forestry techniques.

Should we export (more) wood to China? If so, how? Leave your thoughts below.

Lykke Andersen is the Director of the Center for Economic and Environmental Modeling and Analysis (CEEMA) at INESAD.


(1) h/t to Fabian Soria for pointing out the the freeing of the data from the World Bank (


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