Where there is desert, there’s poverty

Photo credit: BEIJING REVIEW

Desert willows planted by local farmers have effectively stopped sand movement in Hobq Desert (XINHUA)

Taming the Desert

Efforts to reverse desertification and land degradation in Inner Mongolia offer a template for further exploration

By Jacques Fourrier

In 2000, throughout March and April, Beijing was engulfed in one of the worst spell of sandstorms in history. It was at that time that many Chinese people became acutely aware of the threat of worsening land degradation in the country’s north. Fifteen years later, however, the situation has dramatically improved. In this process, a substantial number of strategies to tackle desertification have been implemented in China, some of which began as far back as 1977 when the First UN Conference on Desertification was held in Nairobi, Kenya.

In his opening address at the Fifth Kubuqi International Desert Forum held in north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region on July 28-29, Zhang Jianlong, head of China’s State Forestry Administration, said, “As one of the countries in the world most severely hit by desertification, China incurred an annual direct economic loss of more than 54 billion yuan ($8.7 billion), with more than 400 million of its people being affected.”

Deserts cover almost 20 percent of China’s territory, and the areas threatened by desertification amount to over 25 percent of the country’s total landmass. The State Council, China’s cabinet, has announced a plan starting that by 2020, over half of the country’s land affected by desertification, totaling 10 million hectares, would be rehabilitated.

Human activities, such as overgrazing, overplanting and deforestation, combined with natural processes, are the main causes of desertification and land degradation. Some of China’s countermeasures have had impressive results and Hobq Desert in Inner Mongolia appears to be a highly regarded reference at home and abroad.

Hobq experiment

Wang Wenbiao, the 56-year-old President of the private Elion Resources Group in Inner Mongolia, has always had a skin-deep awareness of the curse of desertification in Hobq Desert, a large swathe of dry land in the northern edge of the Ordos Plateau. “I come from a family of farmers—my parents, my grandparents were farmers,” he explained. “I always tell people that where there is desert, there’s poverty, and when there is poverty, there is desert.”

Read the full article: BEIJING REVIEW

Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.

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