Scientific initiatives, multiplayer efforts prove China’s anti-desertification drive in Inner Mongolia stands test of time

By Lin Xiaoyi in Inner MongoliaPublished: May 19, 2021 –

“In the past, when the wind blew in the spring, we were bound to be hit by sandstorms. As long as you went out, the crazy sand would try to get into your mouth and nose.” Several massive sandstorms that recently passed through northern China have brought back heart-wrenching memories for Baijilin Baiila, a forest ranger on the Horqin grassland in North China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, which also suddenly made him realize that in his hometown, the last spring like this year happened long ago.

But faced with the wider vilification of such a storm targeted at China in the Western media which portrays the sand as coming from outside China as the result of China’s “ecological crisis” and the “degradation of grasslands and woodlands,” Baijilin Baiila felt very angry.

“We clearly know that most of the sandstorms this year did not originate in our country, because now in Inner Mongolia, you can see greenery everywhere. Even a strong wind wouldn’t blow up much sand,” he told the Global Times.

From 2016 to 2020, the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region has prevented and controlled desertification on an average of 12 million mu (800,000 hectares) per year, effectively curbing the spread of deserts.

Expert, officials, and herdsmen reached by the Global Times applauded China for courageously taking the responsibility of improving the condition of affected ecosystems and populations, guaranteeing its people’s right to life and development. Under the unremitting efforts of countless Chinese people, there are fewer and fewer cases of large-scale dust storms directly generated in China. People’s lives are also increasingly becoming happier.

Scientific and effective initiatives

The sea buckthorn forest, gave 54-year-old Baijilin Baiila more hope for spring. Even though his living conditions have greatly improved, he has not given up his hard work as a forest ranger, patrolling 300 acres of the forest at five o’clock every morning on his motorbike no matter the weather.

Baijilin Baiila lives in Horqin Right Wing Middle Banner of the Hinggan League, where the ecological environment was extremely fragile in the past, with desertification and salinization accounting for about 54 percent of the total landmass.

The harsh environment constrained local economic development. “We have endured years of drought, and when the wind blew, the crop fields would become nests of sand. We were even afraid to leave our homes,” he said.

Fortunately, since 2016, local authorities have been pushing forward with reforestation campaigns, completing a total of 28,500 mu (1,900 hectares) of caragana microphyllaand sea buckthorn planting in 2018. In 2019, a total of 70,000 seedlings on 1500 mu (100 hectares) of sea buckthorn were added, with the survival at above 92 percent.

The data revealed that scientific tree-planting actions have built a green ecological barrier for Horqin Right Wing Middle Banner. Presently, the deforested land has been reduced from 6.11 million mu (407,333 hectares) to 710,000 mu (47,333 hectares). The comprehensive vegetation coverage rate of grassland has increased from 35.17 percent in 2016 to 63.96 percent. The annual average number of days with good air quality has also reached 332 days.

The protection forest has firmly locked the moving sands and has improved the livelihoods of local residents. In 2019, Baijilin Baiila signed up to be a forest ranger in his village, responsible for inspecting and reporting the growth of sea-buckthorn trees to the local forestry bureau. At the same time, he received a special government subsidy of 10,000 yuan ($1,556) per head of cattle. Combined with dividends from the sea-buckthorn forest and the cattle industry income, he could earn more than 50,000 yuan ($7,783) annually.

“Compared to cattle, sheep eat more grass and will eat it along with the roots, causing more ecological damage, so our government allows but discourages sheep farming and instead encourages herdsmen to raise cattle,” Wang Chao, the first secretary of the Khattobuki Village told the Global Times.

In the Jaruug Banner in Tongliao, 240 kilometers away from the Horqin Right Wing Middle Banner, more than 160 calves were born in Honggelbatel’s Modern Joint Family Ecological Ranch, which will bring him an annual income of approximately 2 million yuan ($310,794).

This considerable income is due to a risky decision made by Honggelbatel a few years ago.

In 2017, responding to the local government’s “reducing sheep and increasing cattle” policy, Honggelbatel sold 1,000 sheep and built a more than 3,000 square meter modern standard shed to focus on developing a high-quality cattle breeding industry.

“In the past, many grasslands became wasteland because of long-term overgrazing, causing sandstorms in spring and heavy rains in summer, which resulted not only in income decrease but also in casualties. Now under the support of the government, the profit of raising one head of cattle is equal to five sheep, the grass is greener every year, and our revenue has also becomes higher,” he said.

During the current spring grass growing season, Honggelbatel has been strictly following the government’s zoned rotation grazing policy by temporarily confining cattle in the shed to prevent the grass from being prematurely eaten by the livestock. 

According to Unen, deputy director of the Jaruug Banner, local authorities also recently set up more than 2.3 million mu (153,333 hectares) of grazing prohibition areas, establishing 12 management stations with 130 patrol personnel to provide all-round supervision and protection throughout the year.

“There has been no random grazing, or large-scale destruction of vegetation for several years because many people realized that desertification control is closely related to our vital interests, and our next generations will still live and develop on this vibrant soil in the future,” Unen told the Global Times.


Author: Willem Van Cotthem

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