Land Use Changes of an Aeolian-Loessial Soil Area in Northwest China: Implications for Ecological Restoration
China has experienced dramatic land use changes over recent decades, with marked environmental and socio-economic consequences. Hengshan County, located in the aeolian-loessial area of Northwest China, was investigated to illustrate land use changes and their implications for environmental and long-term rural economic development. The farmland in Hengshan County significantly decreased during 1990–2003, whereas forest land and grassland increased. The conversion rates of farmland, orchard land, forest land and construction land varied markedly among different periods: 1990–1995, 1995–2000 and 2000–2003. Conversion of orchard land, grassland and construction land was dominant in 1990–1995, whereas the conversion of farmland to forest land mainly occurred in 2000–2003. The results suggested a profound transition in institutional policy and political economy of land management, including implementation of integrated soil erosion control projects, adoption of a market-oriented economy and the ‘Grain-for-Green’ policy, during this period in China. To achieve long-term sustainable land use in Hengshan County, efforts should aim at increasing off-farm income of rural families as well as establishing land-economizing mechanisms to promote land productivity, in addition to conservation measures.