The majority of these lands are state-owned forest lands, which we have leased. Less than one third of the total area consists of land collectively managed by local villagers; we have leased those lands either directly from the villagers or from local businesses who had already leased the land temporarily from the villagers before Stora Enso arrived on the scene.
Stora Enso’s Social Engagement officers Chen Haiping and Sun Daliang, who are responsible for contacts with villages, are headed to Gongguan. This plantation is typical of the areas rented by us in Beihai: it consists of approximately 500 hectares of forest land leased from the villagers, and located just outside of the village.
“I talk with local people almost every day when I go and check on the plantations,” Chen says. “If we didn’t visit the villagers regularly, we wouldn’t know what’s happening in the village, and they wouldn’t know what Stora Enso is doing in the plantations. That could lead to misunderstandings and conflicts. We have to tell local residents in advance if, for example, we plan to direct large lorries through the village.”
“Before 2009, we weren’t engaging with the villagers enough. They didn’t understand what we were doing here and we didn’t understand their objections. But we were able to improve the situation gradually over a few years just by talking with them.”
Land leasing as a source of income
Chen and Sun wave to greet the head of the village, Fan Xianlu, who comes over for a chat. “Stora Enso has been leasing land in this village for many years now,” says Fan Xianlu.
“All of the lands they leased directly from the village, and the other half had already been leased out by the village to local entrepreneurs, who then sub-leased it to Stora Enso. Revenue from land leasing is an important source of income for the village,” Fan Xianlu continues.
“Things are pretty straightforward with the people from Stora Enso,” he states. “But our land contracts could be improved. The best thing would be if we could in future make all land leasing agreements directly with Stora Enso. At the moment intermediaries take too large share of Stora Enso’s lease payments, and the villagers don’t get enough.”
Our relations with villagers have not improved everywhere as quickly as they have in Nanshan. The company still holds lands leased from villages that are the subject of unresolved disputes between the villagers and entrepreneurs who had earlier leased the land from them, and then, in turn, leased it on to the company. In some cases, villagers believe lease agreements have been falsified, and they oppose our presence on their lands.
We are analysing the legality of all of our land lease agreements. The company has also vowed to correct all land lease contracts that are legally unclear, as well as any that are disputed by villagers. Correcting contracts is, however, a slow process, since all parties must approve of the new agreements.