1999年，中央政府提出了减少水土流失、退耕还林、退耕还林的环境目标。土壤侵蚀是中国最紧迫的环境问题之一。据估计，每年有20 – 40亿吨的淤泥流入长江和黄河中上游。大约65%的淤泥来自倾斜的农田。数据显示，中国西部70%的耕地坡度超过25度，面积约为607万英亩。用术语来说，这个项目是一个公共计划:它由中央政府全额支付，项目资金由财政部管理。
The SLCP was initiated by the central government in 1999 with the stated environmental goals of reducing water and soil erosion and increasing China’s forest cover and area by retiring steeply sloping and marginal lands from agricultural production. Soil erosion is one of China’s most urgent environmental problems . An estimated 2 to 4 billion tons of silt is released into the Yangtze and the middle and upper reaches of the Yellow River annually. Around 65% of the silt comes from the sloping cropland. Data suggests that west China, with 70% of the approximately 6.07 million acres in agricultural land with slopes greater than 25 degrees, contributes to the majority of the silt. Using the terminology of , the program is a public scheme: it is fully paid for by the central government, with program finances being managed by the Ministry of Finance.
Well-developed environmental services exclusively benefit domestic recipients, the buyer or implementer of such a developed PES will thus be part of the beneficiaries. However, if completed successfully, the program’s future benefits could extend well beyond China’s borders.
The program incorporates the goal long held by the central government, of afforesting and restoring barren and degraded wasteland and mountainous areas. During the pilot phase, this goal was an explicit requirement of participation so that farmers retiring cropland were required to afforest a certain amount of wasteland, though this appears to have varied significantly by locale. Given protests by participants of the significant labor requirements of this stipulation, the central government seems to have made this more optional instead.