The Qinling Mountains are an internationally important biodiversity hot spot and represent about 70% of the PRC's biodiversity, including an estimated 300 giant pandas. The Qinling Mountains are central to soil and water management of the Yangtze and Yellow rivers. The Project will improve biodiversity conservation and management by restoring forest habitat, improving endangered species management and providing sustainable livelihoods for the population of the project area, and demonstrating the benefits to the rest of the Qinling Mountains and other similar areas in the PRC. The Project will provide significant environmental, economic, and social benefitsthroughout the project area. It will address underlying causes and effects of historical and contemporary resource degradation.
The project area is 458 square kilometers (km2), about 45 kilometers southwest of Xi'an, the capital of Shaanxi, and is identified as the birthplace of the Taoist religion. The project area is divided into a plains area for ecotourism and agriculture development, and a mountainous area for biodiversity conservation. It is home to about 20,400 people. The plains have about 15,800 residents (77% of the total) who live on about 58 km2 (13% of the total project area) bordering the northern end of the project area. The poverty incidence is about 23%. This area also includes the township of Louguantai; several Taoist temples; the Qinling National Botanical Garden (QNBG) and nursery; the Shaanxi Animal Rescue Center (SARC), which includes threatened species of giant panda, golden monkey, golden takin, and crested ibis; and the Louguantai Forest Farm. About 71 million tourists visit Shaanxi province annually, of which about 400,000 visit the project area and about 1 million visit the Qinling Mountains. The larger but scarcely populated mountainous area is called the Qinling Biological Conservation and Demonstration Area (QBCDA), where the management objective is low-impact development that supports the conservation of biodiversity and provides sustainable livelihoods for about 4,600 residents (23% of total) on about 400 km2 (87% of project area).
The Project will produce three primary outputs: (i) participatory biodiversity management in the mountainous area, (ii) enhancement of biodiversity conservation in the plains area, and (iii) improved project management. Using sustainable financing mechanisms for biodiversity conservation, the habitat of the mountainous area, QBCDA, will be improved to promote mixed forest coverage, and flora and fauna species expansion. The small population lives in scattered settlements in QBCDA and will be encouraged to support biodiversity conservation objectives and minimize unsustainable farming and other activities.
The Project will develop biodiversity-based attractions that will generate funds for the management and enhancement of QBCDA. The commercial activities will involve a botanical garden, wildlife breeding and research (including a giant panda center second only to Sichuan province's Wolong Nature Reserve), and related ecotourism. QNBG will address a major weakness of the many past biodiversity projects by ensuring sustainable financing using part of the ecotourism revenue. Links with the Qinling Mountains nature reserves and an increase in biodiversity corridors will be pursued.
|Project Rationale and Linkage to Country/Regional Strategy
The Qinling Mountains is biologically rich with many endangered, threatened, and endemic animal and plant species that need to be protected. The Qinling Mountains have about 25 national and provincial nature and forest reserves, many of which have received assistance from the Global Environment Facility (GEF), World Bank, and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).
The geography is dominated by mountains, rivers, streams, and forests. The major environmental issues are related to land and environmental degradation, endangered animals and plants, the presence of some exotic tree species, and the need for long-term animal and plant species regeneration and expansion as well as sustainable conservation and preservation management techniques. Other issues include employment and income-generating opportunities for the inhabitants, the availability of financing for biodiversity conservation in the project area and Qinling Mountains, and basic rural services in the project area. About 37% of the population in the project area is poor, with poverty increasing markedly from Louguantai south into the rugged mountain and forest terrain.
Because of the prevailing poverty, the project area and nature reserves in Qinling Mountains are subject to a high level of competing land-use pressure. This is a major reason why the sustainable management of biodiversity resources is important to the Shaanxi government, the Asian Development Bank (ADB), GEF, and WWF. However, the financial sustainability of biodiversity conservation is precarious, because conservation cannot compete financially with other less environment-friendly forms of land use. Species diversity is largely a public good, and the revenue generated from ecotourism often does not cover the costs of creation and management. To improve the funding situation, protected areas must generate their own revenue. Because of its favorable location in relation to Xi'an, the project area will be able to generate revenues to cover most, if not all, of its operational and management costs.
The Project will pursue a market-based approach to biodiversity conservation, featuring sustainable revenue generation and use, land maangement, and conservation management. Biodiversity conservation is a high priority of the Government, as reflected in the 11th Five-Year Plan, the State Environmental Protection Agency's biodiversity strategy, and the QM Ecosystem Function Conservation Plan. The Project will strengthen the management of nature reserve areas in QM through integrated approaches including market-oriented measures to sustain environmental and biodiversity objectives while increasing rural incomes and reducing poverty. The public sector is required to ensure preservation of the natural and cultural heritage sites in the project area.
The lessons learned from previous integrated agriculture and rural development and environment projects in the PRC and Shaanxi province, as well as other major provinces with biodiversity activities, including Sichuan and Yunnan, have been incorporated in the Project. The provincial government and the implementing agency (IA), QNBG, have strong commitment and ownership of the Project. All major stakeholders have been extensively consulted. Linking biodiversity conservation with revenue generation in the PA and QM is fully supported. The Project is well-focused in terms of area coverage and the outputs are well-defined, closely linked, and within the capacities of the IAs to effectively manage. The Shaanxi Provincial Government (SPG) has successfully implemented three ADB-financed projects in environmental protection, roads, and railways. It has also successfully implemented 14 World Bank-financed projects in forestry, water, agriculture, poverty reduction, and environmental protection, several of which are co-financed with GEF. Many of the successful features of WWF assistance in biodiversity conservation and income generation have been included in the Project.