The once arid land on Loess Plateau has heard the footsteps of spring: trees and grass have turned green, lambs are bleating and farmers are busy in their croplands.
Guo Sanren, a farmer born and raised on the wasteland in a mountain valley in Jungar Banner, north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, is astonished.
His hometown is located on the 640,000 sq km Loess Plateau on the upper and middle reaches of the Yellow River. Unsustainable farm production and a huge population base used to cause land erosion that turned local farmlands useless.
Like many locals, Guo used to do odd jobs in cities to feed his nevertheless destitute family, which had lived in abject poverty until a World Bank project was launched in his hometown seven years ago.
"It'd be the same useless land if not for the World Bank loans, " said Guo, who has returned home to be a farmer again.
In the past seven years, the WB project has improved biology, planted trees and built roads and other facilities in his hometown. Guo's family applied for 35,000 yuan (4,375 U.S. dollars) in loans to sink a well and build greenhouses to plant vegetables. They made 9,000 yuan (1,125 U.S. dollars) in net income the very next year.
Last year alone, the family made more than 35,000 yuan and had a new house built.
"I never earned that much working in any city," he told Xinhua Friday.
The Loess Plateau project involves a total investment of 4.2 billion yuan (525 million U.S. dollars), including 300 million U.S. dollars of WB loans.
The project has benefited at least 3.2 million people in Inner Mongolia, Shanxi Province and Shaanxi and Gansu provinces in the northwest, lifting more than 1 million locals out of abject poverty, said Wang Huanzhu, a WB project official.
"We've banned pasturing on grasslands, planted trees and grass and promoted terraced fields on mountains to improve local biology," said Wang.
The WB project has curbed soil erosion on 920,000 hectares of land and cut eroded soil by 60 million tons a year.
It also increased the net per-capita income of local farmers to 1,624 yuan (about 200 U.S. dollars) from 585 yuan (73 U.S. dollars). By the end of 2005, the number of needy households had been reduced from 256,000 to 66,000, with only 12 percent of the locals still living below the poverty line, as against 39 percent reported in 1999.
The project has been praised by former WB president James Wolfensohn as one of the best projects ever implemented in the world.
"With terraced fields and new irrigation systems, our unit yield of wheat has doubled and we can make at least around 190 U.S. dollars more than before in each hectare of cropland," said Zhang Kejian, a farmer in Jixian county, north China's Shanxi Province.