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Massive Program Aims to Hold back Deserts

China has started a massive ecological program in its arid northwest to prevent the desertification of Beijing and other areas.

The five-year program calls for planting 400,000 hectares of commercial forests around the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region at an annual cost of 1.3 billion yuan (about US$188 million) from central and local government budgets, according to Wang Delin, chief of the regional forestry bureau.

General features

Ningxia, which sits on the upper reaches of the Yellow River, is besieged by the Tengger, Ulan Buh and Mu Us deserts. It is highly vulnerable to sandstorms and has a fragile ecology. Local residents are mostly Muslims.


The program was worked out under orders from President Hu Jintao.

During an April 2007 inspection tour of Ningxia, a sandy, dry region, Hu told local officials to make a success of conservation and ecological protection.

"We should work to achieve improvements in the environment through arduous and long-term efforts and make contributions to create a new ecological shield in the vast west," said Hu.

The ecological program

The program was implemented early this year, primarily in Tongxin, a typical arid stretch of land that lies in a recess formed by the Qilian Range and Mount Helan.

Through this recess, sand from a host of deserts in north and northwest China, such as Badain Jaran and Tengger, both in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, finds its way into the interior areas of China.

Apart from planting a date tree belt covering 66,667 hectares in Tongxin County, workers have been constructing a wind barrier of the same size in Yanchi.

The barrier is intended to protect farmland and grazing grounds from wind and sand and to hold back sandstorms from advancing eastwardly and southwardly after passing through the Alxa Plateau and Hexi Corridor in Gansu, a neighboring province, according to Wang.

In the meantime, workers have started construction of ecological parks at the eastern foot of Mount Helan, in northern Ningxia, to slow down the advance of sand swept through the Hexi corridor or land in Beijing, Tianjin and Tangshan, a city on the Bohai Bay.

Along the irrigated areas of the Yellow River inside Ningxia, workers have also embarked on a project designed to conserve the wetlands through tree planting and another projects to help farmers increase their income by planting commercial forests that can thrive in local conditions.

Workers have reclaimed hilly land around Mt. Liupan in southern Ningxia for growing forests to help conserve moisture in the Loess Plateau. The project will play a role in preventing sandstorms from invading eastwardly and southerly through the Alxa Plateau and Hexi corridor.

"By 2012, when the four ecological shields are in place, Ningxia will reap good results in desert control and poverty eradication," said Wang.

Wang said 47,333 ha of forests have been planted thus far.

Locals' attitude

The new ecological program is well-received among locals. Li Yushan, a resident of Xinhua Village in Dingtang Township, Tongxin County, said he spent some time of his winter slack season early in the year on activities such as choosing seedlings, attending training courses and building a greenhouse.

"I am blessed with a 0.53-hectare patch of date trees. After the spring ploughing season, mind you, the seedlings were free of charge, I will earn extra income after the date trees start to bear fruit," said the farmer.

Benefits of other efforts

Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, which will mark its 50th anniversary in September, has been the place where a host of other programs have been taken to tackle harsh natural conditions in the past five decades.

Through implementation of programs such as reverting farmland or grazing grounds into green areas, relocating residents to areas with better conditions for human subsistence, sandstorm-torn Ningxia has started to benefit by the efforts.

The area of classed as desertified in this remote region has decreased from 16,500 ha in the early 1980s to 11,800 ha at present.

(Xinhua News Agency June 18, 2008)

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