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Print Edition> Nation
UPDATED: March 27, 2011 NO. 13 MARCH 31, 2011
Holding the Desert at Bay
Chinese people win some battles in taming the deserts

AN OASIS: After years of desertification control efforts, parts of the Hobq Desert in north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region are covered with vegetation (JIA LIJUN)

Planting and processing herbs, primarily licorice, for medicine have brought annual sales of billions of yuan to the company, Wang said.

In addition, the Elion Resources Group also operates a high-end desert tourism industry. Each year, the group receives about 300,000 tourists who go sightseeing in the desert.

The persons benefiting most from harnessing the sand are herds people in the desert, Wang said. Some of them have become shareholders or workers of the Elion Resources Group and participated in the company's production and ecological construction program, Wang said.

Uner Dolgto, a middle-aged herdsman, has lived in the desert for more than 40 years. His pasture used to be large, yet due to overgrazing in 40 years, the soil gradually turned into sand.

His house has been buried by sand numerous times. Every time it happened, he dug it out with a spade.

In July 2007, Uner Dolgto and 35 local herds people moved their families into a new community that the Elion Resources Group built for them. The residents did not need to pay anything to get into their new homes.

He is a shareholder of the Elion Resources Group and works for the company's sand control program. In his spare time, he steers horses and camels for tourists in a nearby scenic spot to make some extra money.

"We cannot control desertification by merely throwing money at it. We must shift from a model of blood transfusion to blood making. By developing suitable industries, we can let the desert feed its own recovery and the local people," Wang said.

Greater ambition

Now Wang would like to apply his experience in Hobq to the Horqin sand area. On January 25, the Elion Resources Group signed an agreement on managing the environment in the Horqin sand area with Tongliao City and Hure Banner of Inner Mongolia.

Horqin was grassland decades ago, and now some part of it has been cultivated as farmland and some part has deteriorated into sand. The Horqin sand area stretches over Inner Mongolia and China's northeastern provinces.

In recent years, both the central and local governments have taken measures to harness the area, and have achieved some results.

Aer Town in Zhangwu County of Fuxin City lies at the southern end of the Horqin sand area. Grass, wild flowers and pine trees cover the undulating sand dunes there, thanks to a government reforestation project.

However, Wang Shi, a professor at Jilin University, said desertification was still a serious problem and its management is increasingly difficult.

"Overgrazing and excessive land reclamation still exist. The ecosystems of some areas that have been managed are still vulnerable. Efforts should be made to study more effective solutions to tackle the problem," Wang told the Xinhua News Agency.

Previously, different government departments in charge of forestry, agriculture, animal husbandry and land and resources all fought desertification, but through different projects and with different sources of funding, said Zhang Zhiqiang, an official in Hure Banner.

For better results, coordinated efforts are necessary, he told China Economic Weekly.

"Through cooperation between the government and enterprises, we wish to integrate the resources and forces for sand control, and put funding from various sources to better use," Zhang said.

Desertification and Sandification in China

The State Forestry Administration carried out the fourth national desertification and sandification survey from 2009 to 2010.

At the end of 2009, the desert in China was 2,623,700 square km in area, or 27.33 percent of the national territory, and the sandified land area was 1,731,100 square km in area, or 18.03 percent of the national territory.

Compared with results of the previous survey in 2004, the desertified land area decreased by 12,454 square km in 2005-09 and the sand-ridden land area decreased by 8,587 square km.

The survey results indicate the development process of land desertification and sandification in China has been primarily curbed in general. Desertification and sandification keep falling by total acreage but keep expanding in partial locations.

The stern situation of land desertification and sandification in China has not fundamentally changed. Sandification remains the most serious ecological problem of the country for the following reasons:

- China is the country with the largest area of desertified or sandified lands in the world and 310,000 square km of land most vulnerable to sandification.

The sandification of certain areas, such as northwestern Sichuan and the lower reaches of the Tarim River in northwestern Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, is expanding.

The vegetation in the desertified area in north China is still in preliminary recovery with weak self-regulation capability, poor stability, thus difficult to form a steady ecological system in a short period.

- Negative impacts of human activities on desert vegetation are not completely eliminated. Such irrational practices like overgrazing, unwise reclamation, excessive pick-dig harvesting and irrational water use keep damaging vegetation.

- Climate change leads to frequent extreme meteorological disasters, such as lasting droughts, which have significant impacts on vegetation establishment and recovery.

(Source: The Bulletin of Status Quo of Desertification and Sandification in China)

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