Resource Economy

Calculation of Ecological Compensation Standards for the Kuancheng Traditional Chestnut Cultivation System

  • LIU Moucheng , 1 ,
  • BAI Yunxiao 1, 2 ,
  • YANG Lun , 1, * ,
  • WANG Bojie 1, 2
  • 1. Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101, China
  • 2. University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
*YANG Lun, E-mail:

LIU Moucheng, E-mail:

Received date: 2021-01-15

  Accepted date: 2021-03-31

  Online published: 2021-09-30

Supported by

The Mobility Programme DFG-NSFC(M-0342)

Ecology Young Talents Support Project of the Chinese Society of Ecology(STQT2020B03)

The National Natural Science Foundation of China(41801204)


Kuancheng Traditional Chestnut Cultivation System is located in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei Water Containment Function Area. The Traditional Chestnut Cultivation System is characterized by agroforestry compound, and some studies have shown that the compound planting of chestnut has better ecological benefits than the single chestnut planting mode. However, most of the local farmers in Kuancheng are mainly engaged in single chestnut cultivation. Through ecological compensation, farmers are being encouraged to change their chestnut planting mode, which can achieve the purpose of inheriting China’s important agricultural heritage and improving the ecological benefits. This paper introduces preference coefficients to correct for opportunity costs, and through interviews and questionnaires, we obtained the input and output of the single chestnut cultivation, chestnut-maitake, chestnut-millet, and chestnut-chicken and the income of laborers working outside the home in the Kuancheng area. Through analysis and calculation, we obtained the following results: (1) Although the net income of the three chestnut composite modes is higher, their economic input is higher than that of a single chestnut planting mode, and the return on unit investment is lower. (2) The average income of young and middle-aged workers who work outside is higher than that of the local farming industry, so the local chestnut agroforestry plantation has a higher opportunity cost. (3) The final calculation shows that the chestnut-chicken agroforestry operation mode needs no compensation, the chestnut-maitake plantation mode is compensated at least 1608.5 USD ha-1 yr-1, and the minimum compensation for the chestnut-millet plantation mode is 198.3 USD ha-1 yr-1, which can guarantee that farmers receive the full value of their creations. Ultimately, farmers are incentivized to revive the traditional agroforestry production mode to achieve both economic and ecological benefits while inheriting agricultural heritage.

Cite this article

LIU Moucheng , BAI Yunxiao , YANG Lun , WANG Bojie . Calculation of Ecological Compensation Standards for the Kuancheng Traditional Chestnut Cultivation System[J]. Journal of Resources and Ecology, 2021 , 12(4) : 471 -479 . DOI: 10.5814/j.issn.1674-764x.2021.04.005

1 Introduction

In the layout of the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei collaborative development strategy, General Secretary and President Xi Jinping proposed that “the Zhangcheng area should be located in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei water conservation functional area, and simultaneously consider solving the poverty problem around Beijing-Tianjin.” Chengde City is responsible for the national top-level design of the Beijing-Tianjin Hebei water conservation functional area, and its ecological status is remarkable. Kuancheng Traditional Chestnut Cultivation System, located in Chengde City, was selected as China Nationally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (China-NIAHS) in 2014 and a candidate of Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS) in 2019.
Agroforestry ecosystems provide the possibility of ensuring economic production while bringing greater ecological value (Liu et al., 2018a). The traditional chestnut cultivation system of Kuancheng is a typical agroforestry ecosystem with a history of more than two thousand years. Chestnut forests were planted according to the terrain, and the ancient chestnut trees were planted at a long distance from each other so that farmers could cultivate crops or raise poultry under the forest, and chestnut branches could be processed into sticks for cultivating maitake, forming a three-dimensional cycle of the agroforestry ecosystem. In recent years, many studies have confirmed that compared with a single chestnut cultivation mode, a chestnut composite cultivation system can effectively improve soil water-holding performance (Gao,2010; Wei et al., 2014), reduce soil erosion (Yuan et al., 2005) and improve the stability of the ecosystem (Zhang and Huang, 2005; Liu et al., 2006). The traditional chestnut cultivation system of Kuancheng can support water conservation for the Beijing-Tianjin- Hebei region. However, with the deepening of urbanization and the development of productivity in China, more and more young and middle-aged rural people are migrating to the cities, and the lack of labor force in the cultivation industry and the insecurity of farmers’ income make the traditional chestnut cultivation system of Kuancheng unsustainable. At present, most farmers in Kuangcheng are growing single chestnuts.
Therefore, the government must give certain ecological compensation to farmers for changing their chestnut production mode, and the compensation will also encourage them to contribute to the ecological environment while planting and producing. At this point, the value of the compensation standard is very important because it will have an impact on the promotion effect of the agroforestry compound planting of chestnut (Liu et al., 2012). The concept of ecological compensation first originated in the West and was called “payments for environmental services”. After decades of development, domestic and foreign scholars have calculated compensation standards for various contexts in agriculture (He et al.,2018; Liu et al., 2019b; He et al., 2020), grasslands (Hu, 2016; Yin, 2017; Yang et al., 2020), watersheds (Gao and Yao, 2014; Kong, 2017; Xiao and Yang, 2017), forests (Wu and Zhang, 2017; Pei et al., 2019; Deng et al., 2020), wetlands (Han and Yu, 2016; Yu et al., 2016; Liu and Zhang, 2018) and marine systems (Miao et al., 2014; Yu et al., 2019; Xu and Jiang, 2020). There are currently three main methods for calculating ecological compensation standards: the method of willingness to pay (WTP), which represents an interactive and negotiated estimation of compensation subjects and objects; the standard calculation based on the value of ecosystem services theory; and the economic value calculation based on the calculation of direct inputs and outputs for ecological conservation or ecological restoration. In specific studies, these three methods can be applied separately or in combination. For example, Liu et al.(2019a) studied the compensation standard for fallowing in groundwater overharvesting areas using the method of WTP; Liu et al. (2019b) studied farmers’ willingness to fallow and the compensation standard for different modes; Liu et al. (2010) used the direct economic value method and the ecological service value method to compare the comprehensive benefits of rice monocropping with rice-fish agriculture, and determined the range of compensation standards for rice-fish symbiotic systems; Yu et al. (2019) coupled the direct economic value with the ecological service value of fisheries to determine the ecological damage compensation standard for fisheries. However, little has been reported on the ecological compensation accounting for the change to agroforestry composite modes based on monoculture. Addressing this issue is necessary in order to explore the great potential of agroforestry’s ecological functions and further improve the ecological compensation mechanisms.
Opportunity cost is one of the most common factors involved in setting ecological compensation standards. Opportunity cost is the part of the right to development that ecological protectors give up to protect the ecological environment and is included in the compensation standard, which has been more widely practiced and applied both at home and abroad (Immerzeel et al., 2008; Wünscher et al.,2008). Labor cost is one of the common vehicles of the opportunity cost method (Qin and Kang, 2007). With the development of the social economy and the progress of productivity, the occupational choices of the rural population have become more diversified. Apart from continuing to engage in farming and cultivation, more and more young people choose to work in cities. In previous studies, researchers have mostly used the average income of rural households working in cities directly as an opportunity cost in the calculation of compensation standards. On the other hand, during a preliminary survey, we found that as urban-rural differences are not only reflected in income, even at the same income level, some respondents still choose to work in cities for reasons such as the environment, the convenience of living and their children’s education (Wang and Chen,2016). Therefore, here we introduce preference coefficients to correct for opportunity costs and reflect the real differences between urban and rural. These preference coefficients bring the study closer to the actual situation. In summary, this paper takes the traditional chestnut cultivation system in Kuancheng, Hebei Province, as the research object. Through conducting local seminars and questionnaire surveys, we got to know the interests and labor factors that limit the development of the traditional chestnut cultivation system in Kuancheng. Based on the direct accounting of the costs and benefits of different production systems, we introduced preference coefficients to correct for opportunity costs and measured the ecological compensation standards for the three chestnut composite modes. The ultimate purpose of ecological compensation is to encourage farmers to carry out compound planting to better utilize the ecological function of the chestnut forest in Kuancheng and also to provide new ideas for the calculation of ecological compensation standards for similar types of agriculture.

2 Study area

Kuancheng Manchu Autonomous County is located in the northeast of Hebei Province, southeast of Chengde City, between 118°10ʹ-119°10ʹE and 40°17ʹ-40°45ʹN. The total area of Kuancheng is 1952 km2, with an average altitude of 300-500 m, and it belongs to the mountainous and hilly landscape area. The soil of Kuancheng is loose and contains many trace elements, with a pH range of 6.5-7.5. The soil type is mainly brown loam. Kuancheng County is located in the warm temperate zone. The annual average temperature is 8.6 ℃, with a frost-free period of 150-175 days. It has plenty of light and a large temperature difference between day and night. There are 14 ethnic groups in the county, with ethnic minorities accounting for 73.5% of the total population, including 66.5% represented by the Manchu population (Wang, 2011).
With a history of more than 2000 years of chestnut cultivation, Kuancheng County is known as the “Hometown of Chinese Chestnuts” and is rich in forest resources, with 1200 km 2 of woodland, of which 44.4% is chestnut forest. Beijing, Tianjin, and Hebei are resource-based water shortage areas, while there are many rivers in Kuancheng County. The Pu River, the Luan River, the Qinglong River, and the Chang River run through the county, with a total watershed area of 664.5 km2, accounting for 34% of the county’s total area, making it an ecological barrier and water-supporting area for Beijing and Tianjin.

3 Research methods

3.1 Research ideas

The input-output approach and opportunity cost approach are important ideas for setting ecological compensation standards (Li and Liu, 2010). The compensation standard should not only include the human and material resources that the ecological protector has put into the protection, but it should also consider the part of development rights that farmers have lost in the process of protection (Liu et al., 2018b). At the same time, individual laborers possess subjective consciousness and have a strong preference and will in choosing an occupation. In addition to income level, personal preferences, environmental conditions, and career development are also important factors influencing producers' decisions (Zhang et al., 2015). Therefore, it is necessary to introduce preference coefficients to correct for the opportunity costs of farmers in the Kuancheng area. There are four types of chestnut cultivation modes. We use a to represent the single chestnut cultivation mode, b to represent the chestnut-maitake mode, c to represent the chestnut-millet mode, and d to represent the chestnut-chicken mode. For the different chestnut cultivation modes, the following equation can be used to calculate the income:
where NIis the net income from the actual production of the corresponding chestnut cultivation modes, θis the preference coefficient, H is the opportunity cost of the corresponding chestnut cultivation modes and we define M as the “net income from conservation”.
To motivate farmers to transform their chestnut planting modes, the most basic guarantee is that their interests will not be lost in the process:
P(b,c,d)+M(b,c,d)≥Ma i.e.P(b,c,d)≥Ma-M(b,c,d)
where Pis the standard of ecological compensation for the corresponding mode and M is the “net income from conservation” for the corresponding mode.

3.2 Standard accounting methods

There are some differences between the composition of expenditure and income for different chestnut cultivation modes. Through a survey of farmers, we found that the expenditure mainly includes six items such as seeds or chicks, fertilizer and pesticides, production tools, water and electricity bills, processing fees and labor costs. The main subjects of income are chestnuts, maitake, millet, chickens, and the farmers’ income from working outside the home. The two parts of income and expenditure constitute the direct economic value assessment. The net income from actual production is the difference between income and expenditure.
where NI is the actual net production income, B is cash income, C is cash expense, i and j represent the items of income and expenditure, respectively. Each income and expense item is taken as the average of the survey.
Actual net income from production measures the value of direct economic behavior but does not reflect the efficiency of capital inputs, which often directly affects the degree to which modern economic activity is incentivized (Liu et al., 2010). Therefore, this paper introduces two indicators, Output-to-input Ratio ( ROI) and Return on Investment ( ROI%), and uses Cost-benefit Analysis (CBA) to compare the investment efficiency of the four chestnut cultivation modes. The ROI is a static indicator reflecting the profitability of a unit of investment. The ROI% is a ratio reflecting the average annual profit of different production modes to the total investment (Liu et al., 2012), and the calculation formula is as follows:
where B is total cash receipt,C is total cash expense, ROI is the output-to-input ratio and ROI% is the return on investment.
The preference coefficient θ refers to the preference of Kuancheng residents to engage in local farming and to work outside the city, expressed as:
where W is the set net income of residents working outside the home. In this study, a net income of 1545.6 USD person-1 yr-1 from outside working is used as the comparison standard, i.e., W=1545.6, and E is the expected net income of a single laborer growing at home under this condition. In other words, E is the expected income of local respondents who are willing to stay home and grow chestnuts when their income from working outside the home is 1545.6 USD yr-1. E is taken as the mean of the survey samples.
Opportunity cost H is the annual income of laborers in the study area that is higher in other industries than in chestnut planting, expressed as:
$H_{(b,c,d)}=D_{(b,c,d)}× \lgroup \frac{1}{n} \sum_{i=1}^{n}LC_{i}-\frac{1}{n}\sum_{i=1}^{n}C_{i} \rgroup$
where Dis the amount of labor consumed per unit area for each of the three chestnut agroforestry systems, LCi is the income of workers in the Kuancheng area, n is the sample size, and Ci is the local price of hiring labor in the plantation industry.

4 Data sources

Nianziyu Town, Tashan Township, Mengziling Town, and Huapiliuzi Township, which are the main chestnut production areas in Kuancheng City, were selected as the survey area. The chestnut output in Nianziyu Town accounts for almost 1/3 of the county’s chestnut output. In January 2019, villages were randomly selected in the survey area for questionnaire surveys and farmer interviews. For each township we randomly selected 3 to 4 villages, and for each village we randomly selected 5 to 7 sample surveys. The respondents were all ordinary local farmers who grew chestnuts, and they came from different families and were the main labor force of the family or the main role of the family. They were also very knowledgeable about the chestnut growing technology and the working condition of their family members.
A total of 100 questionnaires were distributed, 92 were actually collected, and 81 valid questionnaires were finally collated. The survey focused on the comprehensive benefits of the four production modes of chestnut-maitake, chestnut-millet, chestnut-chicken and single chestnut cultivation in Kuancheng County. Specifically, the survey included annual seed or chick input, fertilizer, pesticide and herbicide costs, irrigation costs, labor consumption, local labor rates, yield, unit price, the time that laborers could work outside each year under each planting mode, income from work outside, and whether the farmers were willing to grow chestnuts, whether they wanted their next generation to grow chestnuts, and how much they expected to earn if they continued to grow chestnuts. The survey results showed that the proportion of male farmers interviewed was 51.9%, with a relatively balanced ratio of men to women; the age structure was dominated by middle-aged laborers aged 41 to 60, accounting for 51.8% of the total respondents, 37.1% were over 60 and only 11.1% were under 40; the education level of respondents was mainly primary and junior high school, accounting for 40.7% and 29.6% of the total respondents, respectively. The input-output value per unit area was taken as the statistical average of the survey data.

5 Results and analysis

5.1 Input-output differences between the four types of chestnut cultivation in Kuancheng

The difference in input and output between single chestnut cultivation and chestnut composite cultivation modes is obvious. As can be seen from Table 1, labor costs are the main input for the single chestnut cultivation, followed by fertilizer and pesticides, while the average cost of irrigation is only 7.73 USD ha-1, with no seed costs. At the same time, excluding the busy months of chestnut planting, farmers could earn an average of 2240.3 USD yr-1 from working outside. In the chestnut-maitake mode, the costs of purchasing mycorrhiza, production tools, hiring labor or irrigation costs per unit area are over 1500 USD yr-1, and farmers earn zero income from working outside (the daily work of growing and maintaining maitake is demanding and farmers do not have time to work outside). Similar to single chestnut cultivation, the proportion of labor cost is the largest in the production input cost of chestnut-millet, followed by fertilizer, pesticide, and processing costs. Seed and irrigation costs also account for a certain percentage. In chestnut-chicken, the labor input of this mode reaches 3315.3 USD ha-1 because the chickens need to be pre-handled before they can be sold. In addition, taking into account the rate of disease and death during the poultry farming process and the cost of building chicken coops, the average annual income of farmers working outside has also decreased to 1700.2 USD.

5.2 Input-output accounting for the four types of chestnut cultivation in Kuancheng

In Table 1, fertilizers and pesticides are calculated at the average price of actual inputs by farmers in 2018. Labor tools mainly include the cost of consumables such as high pruning shears and branch shears. Irrigation includes the cost of purchasing water pipes and electricity. The stages of chestnut cultivation that require labor input are pruning branches, branch picking, fertilization, weeding, pest control, irrigation, and chestnut picking. The labor cost varies at each stage, with an average of 150 persons per day of chestnut labor required per hectare. The average price of locally hired labor is 17 USD d-1, thus the labor cost is calculated to be 2550.2 USD ha-1 (since both single chestnut cultivation and chestnut composite cultivation have the chestnut owner’s labor input, but this amount of labor is difficult to quantify, this study converts it based on the local price of hired labor). The labor cost accounts for 88.9% of the total input of the single chestnut cultivation. The direct input of chestnut-maitake is more dispersed, with labor costs accounting for only 22.9%, the cost of mycorrhiza accounting for 42% and the cost of production facilities such as mushroom sheds accounting for 28.1%. Growing millet requires steps such as sowing, weeding, and harvesting, and the amount of labor of chestnut-millet is 255 person d ha-1. The labor cost is the main direct economic input, accounting for 87.7% of the total. The labor input in the chestnut-chicken accounts for 71% of the total input, followed by the input of chicks, which accounts for 21.6%.
Table 1 Estimated financial income and expenditures for single chestnut cultivation and composite modes (Unit: USD ha-1)
Chestnut Chestnut-
Output Chestnut 5722.7 6295.0 5150.4 5150.4
Maitake - 35297.5 - -
Millet - - 3767.4 -
Chicken - - - 4636.8
Out-of-work 2240.3 0 1700.2 1700.2
Subtotal 7963.0 41592.5 10618.0 11487.4
Input Seeds or chicks - 15000.0 22.6 1008.5
Fertilizer and
279.0 279.0 394.9 279.0
Tools 31.7 10018.5 31.7 61.8
Irrigation 7.7 2200.2 7.7 7.7
Processing fees - - 150.7 -
Labor costs 2550.2 8160.7 4335.4 3315.3
Subtotal 2868.6 35658.5 4943.0 4672.3
Income 5094.4 5934.0 5675.0 6815.0
ROI 1:2.77 1:1.17 1:2.15 1:2.46
ROI% (%) 177.6 16.6 114.8 145.9
The average yield of dried maitake in the chestnut-maitake mode is 787.5 kg ha-1, and the selling price is 44.8 USD kg-1, as shown in Table 1, which can yield an income of 35297.5 USD ha-1 from maitake. The chestnut-millet mode can produce 1875 kg ha-1 of millet per year, and the selling price is 2 USD kg-1, so it can generate an income of 3767.4 USD ha-1. The chestnut-chicken mode produces 300 chickens per year for 15.5 USD each, which can yield 4636.8 USD ha-1. The chestnut yield of single chestnut cultivation is 2475 kg ha-1, compared with a ten percent higher yield of 2722.5 kg ha-1 for the chestnut-maitake, and a lower yield of 2227.5 kg ha-1 in the chestnut-millet and chestnut-chicken modes. The average price of chestnuts in 2018 was 1.16 USD kg-1. Thus, the income from single chestnut planting is 5722.7 USD ha-1, occupying 71.9% of the total income of this planting mode; the income from chestnut in the chestnut-maitake mode is 6295.0 USD ha-1 yr-1, accounting for only 15.1% of the total income; and the income from chestnut in the chestnut-millet and chestnut-chicken modes are both 5150.4 USD ha-1 yr-1, accounting for 48.5% and 44.8% of the total income of these two modes, respectively.
Compared with the single chestnut mode, the ROI and ROI% of the three composite modes are all poor (Table 1). This indicates that although the net income of the composite model is higher, its economic inputs are more than those of the single chestnut planting mode and the investment is less efficient. The ROI% of single chestnut cultivation is 177.6%, while the worst investment profit rate is only 16.6% for the chestnut-maitake. The ROI% of chestnut-millet is 114.8%, and the ROI% of chestnut-chicken can only reach 145.9%, which is the closest to single chestnut planting.

5.3 Opportunity costs and preference coefficients θ for chestnut composite modes

With the aging of society’s population and the lack of urban labor, coupled with the difference between urban and rural lifestyles, more and more rural youth are moving from the countryside to the developed cities in search of a more desirable life. Thus, when accounting for the cost of the composite cultivation models, in addition to the direct economic cost, the opportunity cost of labor in the Kuancheng area must also be considered. Besides, it is necessary to consider the preferences of individual laborers for farming and urban work. Since urban-rural differences are not only reflected in income, even at the same income level, some respondents will still choose to work in the city because of the environment, convenience of living, and their children’s education. Therefore, the opportunity cost must be corrected with a preference coefficientθ to simulate a more realistic status and finally achieve the purpose of retaining laborers and transforming the chestnut production modes (Zhang et al., 2015).
The results of the questionnaire showed that 29.6% of respondents were willing to grow chestnuts at home and 70.4% were not willing to engage in cultivation (Fig. 1). Only 14.8% of respondents wanted their offspring to engage in cultivation, and 85.2% said they did not want their offspring to grow chestnuts in the countryside again (Fig. 2). Most of the reasons why they were willing to continue planting were due to their age and the fear of not being able to survive in the city without other skills. However, the profit motive is one of the factors influencing the willingness to cultivate. When setting the annual net income of 1545.6 USD for working in the city as a reference, young laborers under 40 years old were willing to grow chestnuts at home, provided that the average annual income from growing chestnuts is 2627.5 USD. Middle-aged laborers aged 41 to 60 expected to be willing to continue planting when their average annual income from chestnut cultivation at home reached 1777.4 USD. This shows that raising the income from planting can, to a certain extent, alleviate the lack of rural labor and achieve the purpose of further utilizing the ecological benefits of chestnut forests. The difference in the expected income by age group also shows that young laborers in the Kuancheng area are more inclined to work in the city. At the same time, the proportion of respondents under 40 years old only accounted for 11.1% of the 81 samples we randomly surveyed, which also verifies the massive loss of rural labor from the side and confirms the need to consider opportunity costs and preference coefficients in the calculation of compensation standards.
Fig. 1 The proportions of different age groups regarding planting willingness
Fig. 2 The proportions of different age groups regarding planting willingness of their offspring
The survey data show that the average daily wage of workers entering the city in the Kuancheng area is 23.2 USD d-1, which is 6.2 USD higher than the average local daily wage. The preference coefficient θ was calculated by equation (6) and has a value of 1.2. The labor opportunity cost for the single chestnut cultivation mode is 927.4 USD ha-1, for the chestnut-maitake it is 2967.5 USD ha-1, for the chestnut-millet it is 1576.5 USD ha-1, and for the chestnut-chicken it is 1205.6 USD ha-1.
Table 2 Opportunity costs of farmers in four types of chestnut production modes
Production mode Amount of labor
(p d ha-1)
Income difference
(USD p-1 d-1)
Opportunity cost
(USD ha-1)
Chestnut 150 6.2 927.4
Chestnut-Maitake 480 2967.5
Chestnut-Millet 255 1576.5
Chestnut-Chicken 195 1205.6

Note: Unit p means person. Unit d means one day. The same below.

5.4 Accounting for ecological compensation standards for the three chestnut agroforestry systems

When setting the ecological compensation standard, the first issue is to ensure that the “net income from conservation” per hectare of the three chestnut composite methods is equal to that of single chestnut cultivation. In other words, Ma is 3981.5 USD ha-1. As can be seen from Table 1, the net income of the chestnut-maitake is 5934.0 USD ha-1. Therefore, its ecological compensation standard can be calculated as at least 1608.5 USD ha-1yr-1; while the net income of the chestnut-millet is 5675 USD ha-1, and the ecological compensation standard needs to be at least 198.3 USD ha-1yr-1. The net income of the chestnut-chicken is 6815.0 USD ha-1 yr-1, and the calculation shows that the compensation standard P is a negative number, indicating that the net income under the chestnut-chicken is much higher than the net profit of single chestnut cultivation, even if the opportunity cost and occupational preference of the farmers have been taken into account. Therefore, from an economic point of view, there is no compensation for chestnut-chicken. Compared with the single chestnut planting, the additional investment of the chestnut-chicken is less than the additional income. Its additional input includes the cost of chicks of 1008.5 USD ha-1, labor input of 765.1 USD ha-1 and a small amount of tool costs, but the income of chickens can reach 4636.8 USD ha-1. Overall, the net income of the chestnut-chicken is 1720.6 USD ha-1 higher than that of the single chestnut cultivation. At the same time, because raising chickens does not require too much extra work, farmers still have more time to go out to work, and the opportunity cost is relatively low.
However, we found from our local survey that the chestnut-chicken mode is not common. From the economic point of view, although the net income of the chestnut-chicken is higher, its economic input is more than that of single chestnut cultivation, and the return per unit investment is lower. Therefore, individual farmers mostly choose the single chestnut cultivation mode and use the remaining capital for other purposes to obtain more returns. In addition to the level of return on investment, the chestnut-chicken requires an additional investment of 1803.7 USD ha-1yr-1, which many farmers may lack. Besides, there is no sound local market for the sale of poultry, and many farmers are worried that the chickens could not be sold. Therefore, there is no economic need to compensate for the chestnut-chicken mode, but solutions need to be sought for several other issues. It must be noted that the chestnut-chicken mode explored in this study is a general scenario, and further analysis and calculations are needed to draw scientific conclusions on how the input-output profiles of the two agricultural production models would change if the probability of major epidemics, such as avian influenza, is considered.
Table 3 Results of the ecological compensation standard of chestnut agroforestry systems (Unit: USD ha-1)
Production mode Net income Preference coefficient Opportunity cost Net income from conservation Compensation
Chestnut 5094.4 1.2 927.4 3981.5 -
Chestnut-Maitake 5934.0 1.2 2967.5 2373.0 1608.5
Chestnut-Millet 5675.0 1.2 1576.5 3783.2 198.3
Chestnut-Chicken 6815.1 1.2 1205.6 5368.4 0

6 Discussion

The ecological compensation standard in this paper was obtained through a questionnaire survey to obtain the necessary data and based on the cost-benefit method. In practice, it is still necessary to determine the current compensation standard through negotiation and consultation based on the actual situation of the region, especially the level of economic development and the current situation of the ecological environment. The compensation standard formulated in this paper is an attempt to improve the ecological benefits of chestnut forests and is based on the average profit of a single chestnut cultivation mode, starting from the interests and expectations of local farmers. Therefore, it does not apply to the development of compensation standards for the transformation of crop operations for purposes other than ecological protection. At the same time, ecological compensation is a dynamic process, which needs to be adjusted according to the characteristics of ecological protection and economic and social development stages, keeping pace with the times and making corresponding dynamic adjustments. Besides, this study measured the compensation standard based on a comparison of input and output per unit of production, while scale efficiency can also have an impact on farmers’ total income and willingness to plant, and is an important issue for further investigation in future studies. Therefore, the significance of this study is to provide a way to transform the crop management method of ecological compensation and a conservation-based idea for setting the compensation standard.

7 Conclusions

(1) This study shows that the direct inputs of the chestnut composite modes are all higher than those of the single chestnut planting mode. Although the three composite models of chestnut-maitake, chestnut-millet, and chestnut-chicken have certain increased income items, the planting of maitake consumes tremendous human and material resources, and millet planting and chicken raising reduce the output of chestnuts and the income of going out to work while increasing the labor cost per unit area. Therefore, their output-to-input ratios and investment profitability are much lower than that of single chestnut cultivation. Compared with single chestnut cultivation, the chestnut composite systems have better ecological benefits. The area of chestnut forests in Kuancheng County is large, and it would be significant to enhance the ecological benefits of the chestnut forest for the water-conserving function area of Beijing, Tianjin, and Hebei. Ecological compensation can reduce the losses faced by farmers in transforming their chestnut modes and encourage them to carry out chestnut composite planting, thus achieving the stated purpose.
(2) The questionnaire data indicate that the young and middle-aged labor force in the Kuancheng area prefers to work in the city, resulting in a higher opportunity cost for chestnut composite cultivation. The migration of young and middle-aged rural laborers to urban areas is a common phenomenon in the process of uneven social development. On the one hand, the development of agricultural mechanization has greatly reduced the number of laborers needed for agricultural activities; while on the other hand, with the development of convenient transportation and multiple channels of information, farming is no longer the only option for people. Compared with agricultural activities, urban workers have a better working and living environment and more developed medical and educational opportunities. In the Kuancheng area, the fact that the income from working outside is significantly higher than that from the local plantation is also an important factor that intensifies the flow of rural labor to the city. Compared with single chestnut cultivation, chestnut composite cultivation requires more labor. Therefore, it is necessary to motivate the labor force to stay in the countryside through ecological compensation and engage in the compound cultivation of chestnuts.
(3) This paper estimates that the ecological compensation for the chestnut-maitake mode in the Kuancheng area is at least 1608.5 USD ha-1yr-1, and the minimum compensation for chestnut-millet is 198.3 USD ha-1yr-1, which can guarantee that farmers receive the full value of their creations. The chestnut-chicken mode does not require compensation, but it is necessary to protect farmers who change their chestnut cultivation mode in terms of improving the local poultry market and influenza control, optimizing loan channels for the plantation industry, and so on. Publicity should also be strengthened among farmers to promote the chestnut-chicken mode. In addition to this, monitoring and management of the composite planting mode are also necessary. Whether raising maitake, millet or chicken, we should follow the principles of near-naturalistic farming and avoid modern industrial modes to guarantee the maximum ecological benefits of compound cultivation.
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