Edited by Li Nan, photos by Xinhua.
The barren sand ridges of the Daquan Desert in northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region are not where you'd expected to find over 1,000 budding trees. With persistent winds and low soil moisture, living conditions in the region are extremely harsh for plants.
That's precisely why Yu Shengxin, a 78-year-old retired civil servant fighting against desertification through greening, has chosen the region to serve as a test range for his anti-desertification board – a new instrument that could help to slow down water evaporation and block out wind, thus helping plants to survive the tough desert conditions. Desertification is the process in which dry regions become increasingly arid and lose their foliage, often because of climate change.
"During my first year here, if I forgot to close the windows before going to bed, my mouth and nose would be clogged with sand when I woke up the next morning," said Yu. "From then on, I kept thinking about how to curb the sandstorm in Ningxia."
Greening is an effective way of constraining sandstorms and desertification, though saplings face an uphill struggle for survival in deserts. In 2003, Yu made an artificial "desert" from two trucks worth of sand and conducted many experiments with his son and daughter-in-law, who both work at the local forestry department. This led to the initial prototype that could shield the plants in the dessert.
Though not an expert, the persistent sandstorms in Ningxia persuaded Yu to seek a solution to the problem.
Yu cultivated a pilot experimental field of seven mu (0.47 hectares) in the Daquan Desert with the support of the local government's Science and Technology Department. To test the instrument's capabilities, he planted saplings with shields on sand ridges and did not water them. Thanks to Yu's invention the saplings were able to grow and survive in the barren region.
Since then, Yu's five-year life in the wild began. On weekend's his son and daughter-in-law would test the water content and soil composition in the desert for their parent's research. Yu and his wife spend at least eight months a year in the desert to oversee their trees, only returning home in winter.
The instrument of greening is simple yet effective. It was originally a rectangular tube that acted as a shield to dessert plants, patented by Yu's son and daughter-in-law in 2006. This was developed further and by 2012 a new more effective anti-desertification board was patented.
Copyedited by Dominic James Madar
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