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|Thursday, June 29, 2000, updated at 08:56(GMT+8)|
China Set to Beat Man-made DesertsChina will take resolute measures to fight against man-made deserts created by human neglect of prairies and farmland.
The measures aim to improve the deteriorating ecological conditions in China, especially the north which has been even more devastated by spring sandstorms which swept nearly half of the country, including cities of Beijing and Shanghai.
The desert control program, the largest of its kind since 1949, is made up of 11 sub-projects to be carried out in more than 400 counties of 14 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities in north and northwest China.
This year China will allocate 12 billion yuan (about 1.45 billion U.S. dollars) to stave off desertification, launching large-scale tree planting and air-seeding campaigns over the man- made deserts.
Wang Zhibao, director of the State Administration of Forestry, said that China is determined to prevent the spread of the man- made deserts in the coming years.
Dong Guangrong, a research fellow in environmental engineering of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said that every year about 2, 460 sq km of land in China is turned into desert -- and it's the result of human spoils.
Estimates say that since the 1950s, desertified land in China has reached 340,000 sq km, almost the area of three Bulgarias, due to excessive land reclamation, herding and tree-felling, and water resources consumption.
The man-made deserts are mainly distributed in northern Hebei, the Inner Mongolian prairie, the lower reaches of the Tarim River in Xinjiang as well as other places in Gansu, Qinghai and Tibet.
The distance between the nearest deserts and Tian'anmen Square in Beijing is 72 km.
Dong, an expert on desertification, said, "Without effective countermeasures, our cities will be swallowed by deserts due to man's excessive exploitation of nature. That is not alarmist talk. "
The Ulanqab and Xilin Gol prairie in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region was for decades a paradise with rich grass and water resources for cattle; however, it is now covered with scattered deserts formed by the rapidly increasing population and increased herds of cattle that ate large quantities of grain, grass and plants.
With vast areas of grassland being reclaimed for farmland, vegetation like sand willows and sand sagebrush in deserts are being dug up and even their roots being nibbled by cattle, the prairies are quickly becoming deserts.
The problem of man-made deserts has caught the attention of people all over the country, especially top Chinese leaders like President Jiang Zemin and Premier Zhu Rongji.
Premier Zhu recently stressed that lessons should be drawn from the ravaging desertification as a result of excessive herding and farming on grassland, destruction of forests and prairie, and careless mining in northern China.
The premier said that the desert control program should start with man's role in ecological protection.
The Chinese government has banned the public from picking sand- fixation vegetation such as black moss. In recent years, 13 million ha of prairie were destroyed in China by those picking black moss to sell.
An official of the Ministry of Agriculture said that from July 1, China will issue its first regulation on managing the balance between grass and cattle. China also plans to draft a law on desert prevention and control.
Chinese desert expert Chen Guangting said, "The urgent task for China in handling the desert problem is to eliminate man-made deserts instead of turning the natural deserts into oases."
Chen said that the man-made deserts are shallow as they took less time to form, adding that considering China's technology and natural conditions, "the deserts can be tamed in our efforts to achieve ecological balance."
According to Chen, China has tamed deserts in the Naiman Banner of Inner Mongolia, Yanchi of Ningxia and Linze of Gansu by 260,000 sq m. But the desert control pace is far slower than the expansion of man-made deserts.
China is also adopting a policy of tree planters owning trees and gaining benefits from the trees, an incentive which is expected to stimulate farmers' enthusiasm for afforestation.
Shi Guangyin, a 38-year-old farmer in Dingbian County of northwestern Shaanxi Province, set up a privately-owned desert control company and hired planes to spray grass seeds on the desertland he contracted. Overseas investment is also playing a bigger role in fighting back man-made deserts.
Experts hold that the conditions in China are now mature for pursuing comprehensive control over man-made deserts. China's national economic strength has been enhanced, its grain supply is abundant and its desert-control technology is applicable in the country.
Now an massive campaign to return farmland to grass and trees is underway in the country, especially in western China. In Ulanchab Prairie, about 130,000 ha of farmland will be returned to grassland each year.
Ma Weiyi, a herdsman in Ningxia who has lived on herding for several decades, said that he favored the government's decision to stop farmers in Helan Mountain from herding cattle. "If cattle continue to graze on the mountains, the Helan Mountain will become a barren mountain," he said.
Local governments are helping herdsmen move from the state nature reserve so that the forests and grass will no longer be a feeding ground for cattle.
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