China's anti-desertification philosophy, efforts turn sand into gold

(Xinhua) 08:20, June 18, 2024

An aerial drone photo taken on May 15, 2024 shows tree seedlings planted at an afforestation area in the Horqin sandy land in Tongliao City, north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. (Xinhua/Lian Zhen)

XI'AN, June 17 (Xinhua) -- Zhang Yinglong, 61, has found a way to plant red matsutake, or red pine mushrooms in the Maowusu Desert, one of China's major deserts, hoping that this will bring economic benefits and encourage more people to join the cause of afforestation.

"We can't just control the sand, but we must also think about how to use the sand so that the people in the sandy areas can prosper," said Zhang, head of Maowusu desertification control and afforestation base, Shenmu City, northwest China's Shaanxi Province.

Located on the southeast edge of Maowusu, the base is now surrounded by lush trees. However, Zhang still remembers the sandy and windy scene when he first arrived there 21 years ago.

Over the past two decades, Zhang has become a desertification control expert, having worked on an area of 428,000 mu (about 28,533 hectares), the forest and grass coverage of which has increased from 3 percent to 65 percent.

"In the 21 years of combating desertification, we have undergone two stages: preventing and controlling desertification and protecting and using sand. Now, we are in the second stage," Zhang said, adding that his initial goal is to achieve desert stability, and medium-term goal is to effectively protect and form industries, stimulate industrial development through sand control, and promote sand control through industry.

Since the 1950s and 1960s, China has launched large-scale desertification prevention and control and ecological control projects, including the Three-North Shelterbelt Forest Program (TSFP). Over the past 46 years, the forest coverage rate of the TSFP-covering areas has risen from 5.05 percent to 13.84 percent.

In north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, there are also such stories of combating desertification and creating economic benefits by developing industries.

"The tree seedlings were planted and the next day, they would be blown away. We managed to keep a few saplings, but due to the drought and lack of rain, they struggled to survive for a second year," said Chen Guofa, Party secretary of the Bulgtai Village, Hinggan League, located on the edge of the Horqin sandy land.

After rounds of failure, Chen found that the wild apricot trees on the barren mountain survived the wind and sand again and again. "Mountain apricot is drought-resistant, cold-resistant and has strong adaptability. It is an excellent native tree species for sand fixation and water conservation. People can enjoy flowers in spring and fruits in summer, so it has economic value," Chen said.

In 2012, Chen led the village to plant more than 60,000 mountain apricot trees on over 1,000 mu of barren land. After years of preservation, the trees have protected the village from sand storms.

With support from the forestry department, the village has carried a forest fruit base planting project with a total cultivation area of 3,500 mu, in which they planted 17 varieties of fruit trees. In 2023, the village planted 2,000 mu of Huangqi and Cangzhu, two kinds of traditional Chinese medicine, in the base. This enriched its economic form through the intercropping of forest and medicine.

It is expected that by the peak fruit period this year, the forest fruit base can produce about 300 tonnes of fruit, and the annual income can reach more than 1.2 million yuan, achieving a unity of ecological, economic and social benefits.

The region's scale of industries such as forest food, woody grain and oil, psammous plants, Chinese medicinal materials, and high-quality forage grass continues to expand, and the total output value of the region's forestry, sand and grass industry reached 85.6 billion yuan (about 12.03 billion U.S. dollars) in 2023.

In Zhongwei City, northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, sand has become a tourism resource in recent years.

The Shapotou Scenic Area, a desert tourist destination, has entered its peak tourist season as summer approaches. Entertainment activities such as camel riding, sand sliding, star gazing and sand spa have drawn tourists to the place where people avoided visiting in the past.

The city received more than 15.02 million tourists, with a tourism revenue exceeding 8.8 billion yuan in 2023.

"Without desertification control, there wouldn't be a Shapotou scenic area," said Tang Ximing, who has been devoted to fighting desertification for over three decades in the Tengger Desert, China's fourth-largest desert. 

(Web editor: Zhong Wenxing, Liang Jun)


Related Stories