How planting trees in China created a desert



China’s growing deserts a major political risk

As desertification in China increases and government efforts to stop the sand’s advance falter, serious political risks are emerging from hub to hinterland.

When most people think of China’s landscape, they envision rivers and rice paddies, yet much of China does not conform to this image. From Tibet and Xinjiang, to the Russian border, the majority of Chinese territory is comprised of desert, grasslands, or arid steppe.

These regions only fell under official Chinese rule during the Qing dynasty, and for most of China’s 5,000 years as a civilization, dynasties and kingdoms have centered around the south-eastern river valleys and coasts.


The Green Wall of China

Following the creation of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949, the country embarked on history’s largest nation building exercise. To this end, vast swathes of China’s forests were felled for fuel, lumber, and paper production for the billions of little red books and proclamations emanating from Beijing. This process was accelerated in the 1960s, as forest and grassland cover shrank, increasing the rate of desertification.

As the deserts grew, the government recognized the threat and began a gargantuan reforestation effort in 1978, planting 66 billion trees to date. This project – colloquially dubbed the ‘Green Wall of China’ – is a multigenerational mega project slated to be completed by 2050.


How planting trees created a desert

The government introduced fast-growing, but non-native species such as pine and poplar, while simultaneously rooting out local keystone species like sea buckthorn during the 1980s. The removal of sea buckthorn, removed a species playing a vital role in holding the soil together, thus increasing erosion.

The introduced pine and poplar are also very thirsty species, and introducing billions of them into an already arid environment, sunk the water table up to ten times below its original depth. This in turn killed off the shorter roots of prairie grasses, causing further desertification.

Read the full article: Global Risk Insights

Despite the progress desertification remains a serious issue in China



Desertification in China reduced over past few years: Research

Desertified and sandified lands have shrunk over the past few years in China, the authorities said today, noting that despite the progress these remain serious issues for the country.

By the end of 2014, there was 2.61 million square kms of desertified area in China, about 27 per cent of the whole territory, down 12,120 square kms from a previous survey in 2009, research by the State Forestry Administration showed.

China has been monitoring desertification and sandification every five years since 1995. By the end of 2014, there was 1.72 million square kilometers of sandified land, about 17.93 per cent of the national territory, down 9,902 square kilometers from 2009, it said. It was in 2004 that desertified areas started to reduce.


Read the full story: The Eastern Today

Significant progress in fighting desertification by reforestation in China

More than 400 million people in China are still affected by desertification. It would be nice to see published satellite images showing this progress


Progress in fighting desertification

by CNC

China’s forestry authority says the country has made significant progress in fighting desertification.
The area of land desertified or sandified has been decreasing for 10 consecutive years.
Expanding deserts are a global problem. And China is also a victim. Around one-third of the country’s land faces degradation. But it may not necessarily be a losing battle.
After three decades of efforts, the country has made significant progress in stopping the spread of deserts.
On Tuesday, the country’s forestry authority said the area of land desertified or sandificated has been on the decline for 10 consecutive years.
SOUNDBITE (CHINESE): ZHANG JIANLONG, Head of State Forestry Administration
“By the end of 2014, 2.61 million square kilometers of land was desertified across China, 12,120 square kilometers down from in 2009. A total of 1.72 million square kilometers of land was sandified, 9,902 square kilometers less from in 2009. This is the 10th consecutive year that the figures have dropped.”
Despite the progress, the State Forestry Administration has admitted that desertification remains a serious challenge.
More than 400 million people in China are still affected by desertification, struggling to cope with water shortages, unproductive land and the breakdown of ecological systems.

Solar greenhouses to save energy

Photo credit: WVC 1995-1999 – Picture5-Gao-Jia-Van-02b.jpg

Belgian TC-Dialogue Foundation’s Greenhouse project in the Lanzhou region (Gansu Province, P.R. China 1995-1999)

Reinventing the Greenhouse

The modern glass greenhouse requires massive inputs of energy to grow crops out of season. That’s because each square metre of glass, even if it’s triple glazed, loses ten times as much heat as a wall.

However, growing fruits and vegetables out of season can also happen in a sustainable way, using the energy from the sun. Contrary to its fully glazed counterpart, a passive solar greenhouse is designed to retain as much warmth as possible.

Research shows that it’s possible to grow warmth-loving crops all year round with solar energy alone, even if it’s freezing outside. The solar greenhouse is especially successful in China, where many thousands of these structures have been built during the last decades.

Read the full article: Low-Tech Magazine

Use of TerraCottem soil conditioner (TC) in Chinese greenhouses

Photo credit: WVC 1999-11

Use of TC in a Chinese greenhouse in HongHe (Gansu Province (P.R. China)


Report of the Chinese partner of a Belgian project set up by the TC-Dialogue Foundation

(1) English translation

(2) Chinese text

presented by Prof. Dr. Willem Van Cotthem (Ghent University – Belgium – Chairman of TC-Dialogue Foundation)







Photo WVC: Chinese greenhouse with garlic growing on soil treated with TC.
Photo WVC: Chinese greenhouse with garlic growing on soil treated with TC.
Photo WVC: Commemoration plate of the TC project in Hong He (Gansu Province, P.R. China).
Photo WVC: Commemoration plate of the TC project in Hong He (Gansu Province, P.R. China).
Photo WVC: Backside of the commemoration plate.
Photo WVC: Backside of the commemoration plate.





Has the reforestation effort done little to abate China’s great yellow dust storms ?

China’s Reforestation Programs:
Big Success or Just an Illusion?

China has undertaken ambitious reforestation initiatives that have increased its forest cover dramatically in the last decade. But scientists are now raising questions about just how effective these grand projects will turn out to be.

 Jon R. Luoma, a contributing editor at Audubon, has written about environmental and science topics for The New York Times, and for such magazines as National Geographic and Discover -

Jon R. Luoma, a contributing editor at Audubon, has written about environmental and science topics for The New York Times, and for such magazines as National Geographic and Discover –

by jon r. luoma


In China, major environmental degradation caused by deforestation was apparent even 2,000 years ago, when the great waterway once simply called “The River” was visibly transformed. Tree-felling all along the river’s banks wiped out root systems that held erosion in check, allowing tons of sediments to spread their stains into what has been known ever since as the Yellow River.

In the years after World War II, with its population booming and a massive drive to industrialize in full swing, China became an epicenter of world deforestation, clearing land wholesale for purposes that ranged from growing more food to fueling furnaces for smelting steel. More recently, however, the nation appeared to be reversing that trend, largely with massive campaigns to plant trees. In the first decade of the new millennium, China annually increased its forest cover by 11,500 square miles, an area the size of Massachusetts, according to a 2011 report from the United Nations.

But scientists and conservation groups are beginning to voice concerns about the long-term viability of significant aspects of China’s reforestation push. Of greatest concern is the planting of large swaths of non-native tree species, many of which perish because their water needs are too great for the arid regions in which they are planted. China also is cultivating large monoculture plantations that harbor little biodiversity.

Some international conservation groups, working with Chinese partners, have launched small-scale reforestation and grassland projects using native species, but it remains to be seen whether these ventures can help usher in a new era of more ecologically sound reforestation in China.

Read the full article: Environment 360

Timberland contributed to the planting of two million trees

Photo credit: Timberland

Timberland Plants Two Millionth Tree in China’s Horqin Desert as Part of Its Commitment to Protect The Outdoors

TONGLIAO, China, Sept. 2, 2015 /PRNewswire/ — Global outdoor lifestyle brand Timberland today marked the planting of a total of two million trees in the Horqin Desert, a significant milestone in its ongoing program to tackle desertification in Inner Mongolia. This achievement is a key part of the company’s CSR efforts in Asia, and further demonstrates its continued commitment to protect, create and restore the outdoors and support the communities in which it operates.

In 2001, inspired by the company’s commitment to environmental sustainability, one employee suggested that Timberland play a role in reforesting the Horqin Desert to help tackle the root cause of the sandstorms in her home country of Japan. As a result, Timberland formed a partnership with Green Network, a Japan-based non-profit organization. Fourteen years later, Timberland has contributed more than JPY 120 million (about CNY 6 million at current exchange rates) and 291 days of employee time to support the reforestation project.

“As an outdoor lifestyle brand, protecting and creating a more sustainable environment is not just a nice to have – it makes good business sense. That’s why we’re committed to the responsible design and manufacture of all our products, as well as making the places where we live and work more sustainable,” said John Gearing, Vice President and Managing Director of Timberland & Sportswear, Asia Pacific. “Today’s major achievement of planting two million trees in Horqin signifies our continued commitment to protect the outdoors, not just in the short term, but for future generations.”

Read the full article: The Jakarta Post

Combating desertification in China

Photo credit: WANT CHINA TIMES

Desert-greening at the Kubuqi Desert in Ordos, Inner Mongolia, December 2012. (File photo/Xinhua)

Desertification fight begins to dust up in China

China has developed a new operating model to control desertification, which covers 1.73 million square kilometers and affects over a third of the country’s total population. The model will also help boost the livelihoods of farmers and businesses, the National Business Daily reported.

The government plans to utilize a public-private partnership (PPP) model used for the development of the Kubuqi Desert, China’s seventh-largest desert, for anti-desertification projects along the Silk Road Economic Belt during the 13th Five-Year Economic Development Plan (2016-2020), according to the report.

Chinese vice premier Wang Yang said July 28 at the Fifth Kubuqi International Desert Forum in Ordos, Inner Mongolia autonomous region, that the government will encourage the public, businesses and non-government organizations to help prevent soil depletion, or desertification, and reclaim land that has been damaged, compensating them for efforts in this area through market mechanisms and the PPP model, Wang said.

The Chinese government and the United Nations are exploring the PPP model for combating desertification.

Zhang Shigang, coordinator of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) China Office, said that the government, the UN and the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) have signed a letter of intent to strengthen collaboration to promote green investment along the proposed Belts utilizing the PPP model.

Read the full article: Want China Times

Greening the desert

Photo credit:

This composite photo shows Kubuqi Desert in the past and the present, spanning 20 years. (Photo provided to

Entrepreneur turns sand into gold

A company has spent the past 27 years in combating desertification in the Kubuqi Desert, with the tenet of perseverance rather than seeking quick success, and has turned more than 6,000 square kilometers of the desert into green lands.

Elion Resources Group, based in North China’s Inner Mongolia autonomous region, is known for its unique business model in land remediation and ecological rehabilitation.

Elion has rapidly transformed from a traditional desertification control company into an ecologically sound business featuring “Green land, green energy, green finance plus Internet” to promote the land, air and environmental restoration since 2011.

In an interview with China Daily Website, Elion’s Founder and Chairman Wang Wenbiao said that what Elion has achieved is to make ecological protection financially viable.

He explained that Elion has been pursuing a sustainable green development path – hoping to bring public benefits even as it seeks to business profits.

The company’s star project is located in the Kubuqi Desert, China’s seventh biggest desert, where the company cultivated Traditional Chinese Medicine plants and built a solar energy center.

The selected plants thrive in the tough environment and can be sold for a large profit. Meanwhile, these plants can slow down the process of desertification and gradually transform the desert areas into arable lands.


Read the full article:

China’s Taklimakan desert 25 million years old

Photo credit: YIBADA

Located in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in northwest China, the Taklimakan Desert is also recognized as the second largest shifting-sand desert in the world, next to Sahara Desert in Africa. (Photo :

China’s Largest Desert Formed Much Earlier than Believed, Study Reveals

by Manny Salvacion

A study led by Chinese researchers has indicated that the Taklimakan Desert, China’s largest sand sea may have been formed about 25 million years ago, much earlier than previously believed, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

Located in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in northwest China, the Taklimakan Desert is also recognized as the second largest shifting-sand desert in the world, next to Sahara Desert in Africa.

Zheng Hongbo, the lead author of the study and professor at the School of Geography Science of Nanjing Normal University, said that Taklimakan’s age remain a controversial issue in which majority of people hold its age as between 3.4 million years old to 7 million years old.

Zheng and his colleagues said in the new study that volcanic ash from two sedimentary sections along the southwestern margin of the Tarim Basin, has preserved the evidence of desertification, showing the region’s geological past.

Zheng said that minerals such as sanidine, aegirineaugite, and biotite present in the volcanic ash are ideal indicators for an accurate geological dating.

Combining field investigations and petrologic studies, the researcher’s work showed that the Taklimakan Desert likely came into existence 25 million years ago.

Read the full article: YIBADA

China’s “National Sustainable Agricultural Development Plan (2015- 2030)”

China releases development plan on sustainable agriculture

(People’s Daily Online)

The plan was jointly compiled by the Ministry of Agriculture, National Development and Reform Commission, Ministry of Science and Technology, Ministry of Finance and others. The plan is an important guide for sustainable agricultural development in the future. It divides China into three zones named optimized development areas, moderate development areas, and protected development areas. The categories take into account factors such as agricultural resources, environmental capacity, and ecological types.

Optimized development areas include the Northeast region, the Huanghuaihai region, the Yangtze River area and South China, which are the main areas for agricultural production. They benefit from good production conditions and excellent potential. Moderate development areas include the northwest region, southwest region and regions along the Great Wall, which have distinctive features of agricultural production but limited resources and environmental capacity. Protected development areas include the Qinghai Tibet region, Tibet, and marine fishery areas. These are placed in a special strategic position addressing aspects of ecological protection and construction.

The plan puts forward five key tasks from 2015 to 2030 in promoting sustainable agricultural development.

Read the full article: People’s Daily

The Great Green Wall in China

Photo credit: Rashid Faridi’s Blog

Desertification and China’s Great Green Wall

by Gary Rogers



GR:  A little reading in this article and its references quickly reveals that despite China’s massive commitment to reforestation, desertification is increasing.  Part of the problem is that the land-use practices that led to vegetation loss and soil instability are continuing.  Another part of the problem is that Chinese planners are making the same mistakes made in the U. S. and in other arid regions where managers used nonnative plants to replace depleted natives.

Many of you will be nodding and thinking that whenever land-use managers focus on Human benefits, they lose sight of the need for complete ecosystem health. They focus on potential benefits from foreign species that appear to be suited to growth on degraded lands.  Their goal is to continue profitable logging, livestock grazing, and water diversion.  Therefore, the desert grows.


Thanks to Professor Willem Van Cotthem for his efforts to provide a single Internet source for work on desertification (

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