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A Man-Made Oasis – Desertification Control in Ningxia
Text by Sun Yatian
Photographs by Dong Fang
Despite roaring winds, the slim trees on the far edge of the wide Tengger Desert stand firm. A closer look at the trees reveals that each is wrapped with plastic film and that they receive water via drip irrigation tubes. Such a scene is common in Zhongwei of central Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, although the city is only 7 percent desert. For many years, residents of Zhongwei have been brainstorming methods to curb the increasing desertification.
Since the 1990s, the people of Zhongwei have planted 40,000 hectares of forest. A few years ago, they began implementing the trunk film and drip irrigation techniques. Newly-planted trees without strong roots cannot absorb enough water to endure the harsh sun and brutal windstorms. Covering the trunk with plastic film helps the tree retain more water by preventing evaporation. The film isn’t removed until the tree sprouts buds. Irrigation water is siphoned primarily from the Yellow River, but also from underground sources. Along with the trunk film, locals also applied other water-saving techniques to the roots. After filling tree holes with water, they cover the holes with plastic to prevent evaporation.
Yu Lihua, senior forestry engineer of Zhongwei Municipal Forestry Ecological Construction Bureau, has been devoted to desertification control and afforestation for more than 30 years, over which he acquired rich experience. According to him, trunk film has only been used for the past three or four years, and the method has greatly improved the survival rate of saplings. Combining trunk film with drip irrigation pushes the survival rate as high as 95 percent. “Before we started taking those measures, saplings easily dried up,” Yu explained. “The benefits have been obvious.”