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Great sand controller! Man turns sandy land into meadow after years of hard work

By Zhou Feiya, Ren Shanshan (People's Daily Online)    18:52, September 14, 2017

Ulan Udo, once a strong Inner Mongolian man who is now weak and sick, devoted almost his whole life to sand control in his hometown, turning deserts into green lands through three decades of persistent and unremitting endeavor.

What are now meadows were once massive piles of sand over 20 years ago. Wind-blown sand in the spring season could be 30 to 60 meters tall, moving at a speed of five to six meters an hour. Local residents were forced to leave their home, but the Udu family chose to stay.

In 1983 and 1990, Udu’s parents were contracted to manage the lands, covering a total area of 1,300 mu (87 hectares). Most of it is desert, with only 500 mu of green. So the family decided to make the land greener by hand.

The green plan didn’t go smoothly. Moving sand dunes were a constant threat to the family. Udu, then a 17-year-old young man in 1985, planted wormwood plants on the sand dunes, a green plant conducive to keeping sand together in wind. Disappointingly, all the plants were blown away in the next spring.

The failure gave Udu a lesson that the fight against desertification requires a large-scale investment with more people and money.

Udu continued this great cause after his father passed away in 1995. His mother and wife also joined in the fight and shared tough times with Udu. Their efforts did not pay off. Instead, they fell into despair as sudden winds would always ruin everything they had done, and years of sand controlling efforts ate up all their savings.

The area before and after treatment.

Another heavy blow to Udu took place five years later when his wife divorced with her “crazy” husband. In 1999, Udu thought building water projects was a new idea, and obtained loans worth thousands yuan with another five families to jointly dig four wells to water the land. However, this plan fell apart one year later. The others quit, leaving all the debt to Udu. And Udu’s marriage came to an end as well.

It’s not the last straw that breaks the camelback. Udu was resilient enough that nothing would stop him. He continued buying saplings and borrowing money to expand his forest. Until 2003, the green had expanded substantially from 500 to 3,000 mu, but this remarkable achievement was came from over 1 million yuan in loans.

In the following three years, Udu was haunted by the loans and creditors.

Ulan Udo and his mother work in the sand.

It was not until 2008 that the Chinese government started providing cash for non-commercial forests, a favorable turn for Udu. He started to pay off his debts thanks to some 10,000 yuan from national funds.

Udu is now addressed by his fellows as the “silent rich man,” because he is quiet and even silent, a man of few words who now owns a vast 13,000-mu meadow. But Udu is not rich himself, as he is still burdened with a debt of over 300,000 yuan, half of which he owes the bank.

Years of hard work also consumed his health and the tough man suffers from back problems. Now he lives with his aging mother, and neither of them can perform heavy labor.

Udu, the name of this sand fighter, literally means stars in the sky in Mongolia. Though burdened with debt and a hard life, this strong and heroic man has presented a green fortune to a piece of once barren land in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. 

Ulan Udo receives interview.

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