BEIJING — Desertification and land degradation directly affect more than 1.5 billion people. Climate and environmental conditions, such as low soil moisture, wildfires, rainfall patterns and increasing temperatures can contribute to desertification. Other drivers are derived from people’s demands on the land; unsustainable livestock and crop production can degrade soil and cause erosion, which leads to desertification.
Although desertification happens all over the world, it takes a particularly severe toll on China. More than a quarter of the country’s land is now desert, which adversely affects 400 million people. Desertification threatens crop production, water sources and livelihoods.
Despite the magnitude of China’s desertification, there are anti-desertification success stories. Here are three anti-desertification success stories in China:
- From “sea of death” to “sand of gold.”China’s Kubuqi Desert literally translates to “sea of death” in Mongolian. For thousands of years, people associated Kubuqi with a harsh environment that constrained inhabitants to poverty. That changed after the ecological investment company Elion Resources Group, with the support of the local and Chinese government, spent more than $5 billion in the area over a period of 30 years.
The firm planted trees on more than a third of the desert’s land. As a result, precipitation increased to more than 11 inches. The greenery also kept sand storms at bay. Crop-destroying sand storms, which used to occur hundreds of times a year, are down to less than twice a year. Elion Resources Group has also built highways, health centers, schools and villages, in addition to improving water supplies in Kubuqi Desert. These projects provided jobs and helped 100,000 people move out of poverty.
The anti-desertification success stories on the land and its people have earned the desert a new nickname: “sand of gold.”
- Grass to sand and back again.
The grasslands of China’s Dzorge County were turning into desert at an annual rate of an 8 percent. Around 200 lakes dried up in about 20 years.Then in 2010, the staff of the Tibetan Sustainable Environmental Resources for Increased Economic Growth (TSERING) program taught villagers how to heal the land. Staff trained inhabitants on the reasons for desertification and how they could develop solutions.
The TSERING project worked with the local government and communities to change almost 5,000 acres of desert back into more habitable, biodiverse grassland. Staff and volunteers did this through tree plantings, fencing and fertilizing.
According to USAID, villagers from ages 4 to 80 volunteered to help with the rehabilitation of their land. Villagers also said they now feel well equipped to stop the spread of desertification.
Community ownership may be the key to the project’s success. One villager, Gongbo Dundrub, said, “This is our own project. I’m willing to do the job.”
- Taming “yellow dragons.”
China’s Inner Mongolia region is no stranger to what inhabitants call “yellow dragons:” large, yellow dust storms picking up and blowing millions of tons of dust, sand and soil across the country and as far away as Japan. Several projects have attempted to fight desertification in Inner Mongolia, most of them by planting trees. EcoPeace Asia’s project chose instead to plant grasses.
From 2006 to 2013, EcoPeace Asia targeted dried lakes in the region using local Suaeda grass. The grass does not require a lot of water, making it suitable for Inner Mongolia’s environment. Its staff planted 7,400 acres of grass in one lake to combat salinity and soil erosion.“The area where we work specifically doing restoration was originally a salt lake,” BoYoung Sim from EcoPeace Asia said, as reported on ClimateChangeNews.com. “As this dried up, the Alkali particles of the lake get mixed up with the yellow dust and flies to the east worsening the yellow dust storms in Korea.”
The organization said the grass also helps lower the soil’s temperature and pH, which allows for better growth.
In all, EcoPeace restored grassland to almost 15,000 acres, which prevents the accumulation of 1.4 tons of yellow dust each year. Further, some residents who had to abandon their homes because of the expanding desert have returned as the ecosystem healed.
Globally, land degradation eliminates 75 billion tons of fertile soil each year, putting billions of people at risk of poverty and hunger. Desertification, an extreme degradation, forces farmers from their fields and families from their homes. The anti-desertification success stories in China prove desertification is reversible when people have the education and resources to restore the environment.
– Kristen Reesor