Citizens, firms join anti-desertification drive

2015-06-17 10:50Xinhua Editor: Gu Liping

A decade after making the difficult decision to move from her family's home on a dilapidated pasture to a nearby town, former herder Lianhua says her life in northern China's Inner Mongolia has significantly improved.

In 2005, Lianhua had to sell her six cattle and 200 sheep after the 500 mu (33 hectares) of family-owned grasslands succumbed to expanding sands, making it so she was unable to feed the livestock due to drought and overgrazing. The family moved to Zhengxiangbaiqi, a county-level town 60 km from her home in search of a new life.

"At first, I worked as a cashier in a supermarket store. But I could not speak Chinese fluently and was rather slow in learning things because of my age, I could not do the job well," the 50-year-old woman, an ethnic Mongolian, recalls.

Lianhua later opened a small restaurant near a school, but life remained bleak, she said. After a few years, she began managing a meat shop that used to be owned by her relative and life got better.

China launched a grassland protection subsidy program across eight provinces and regions in 2011. Included in the program was Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, where protection was offered for five million herders eking out a living on more than 660,000 hectares of pastures.

The regional government has distributed nearly 5 billion yuan (817.6 million U.S. dollars) as subsidies to herders in the project. A reduction in livestock has accelerated local ecological rehabilitation, with the vegetation coverage rate currently 44 percent, rising from 37 percent in 2010, said Wu Baoshan, an official with the Inner Mongolia Agricultural Department.

Thanks to the policy, Lianhua receives a subsidy of 30,000 yuan a year for not raising animals on her land. The government also helped her husband find a job in a local coal power plant.

"Our grassland has been improving. When it fully recovers, we will return, but will no longer graze in an uncontrolled manner as we did in the past," she said.

China is a country severely affected by land degradation, with a desertified land area of 2.6 million sq km, or 27 percent of the country's total land area as of 2009. There were also 1.7 million sq km of sand lands, which are able to support some plant life but soon will become desertified lands, official data showed.

The country began combatting desertification in the 1950s, with great achievements made, especially in the past few years, said Zhang Jianlong, deputy head of the State Forestry Administration.

The land's desertification trend has been contained on the whole but still expands in some areas, he said, citing statistics that the country's desertified and sand land saw an average decrease of 2,491 and 1,717 sq km respectively per year between 2004 and 2009.

China has advanced technologies in fighting desertification, said the official at a news briefing last Tuesday.

Wednesday marks World Day to Combat Desertification, whose focus is "attainment of food security for all through sustainable food systems".

China will celebrate the day with the theme of "greening deserts and safeguarding the homeland" this year.

Beside the government's heavy investment in anti-desertification, individuals and enterprises have also joined the green campaign.

Elion Resources Company, a local company in Inner Mongolia, has turned 5,000 sq km of the Kubuqi Desert into a lush landscape after 25 years of unremitting efforts. The desert is the seventh largest desert in China and one of the main sources of sand storms that regularly hit north China, including Beijing.

China Petroleum Bio-energy Company, based in the southeastern city of Shenzhen, plans to plant 66,000 hectares of forests which also serve its bio-energy base in Makit County in the south of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in northwestern China.

China has stepped up its efforts in restoring and protecting the environment in recent years. Policies have supported the gradual suspension of commercial chopping of state-owned natural forests and the conversion of farming lands into forests and pastures.

According to a guideline on improving the country's environment issued by the central government in May, more than half of China's treatable sand lands will be dealt with by 2020.

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