WIDER Image-China Farmers Push Back The Desert – One Tree At A Time

By David Stanway

WUWEI, China, June 3 (Reuters) – After a hard morning planting recent shoots in the dunes on the edge of the Gobi Desert, 78-12 months-outdated farmer Wang Tianchang retrieves a three-stringed lute from his shed, sits down beneath the fiery midday sun, and begins to play.

“If you want to battle the desert, there’s no need to be afraid,” sings Wang, a veteran of China’s many years-long state campaign to “open up the wilderness”, as he strums the instrument, recognized because the sanxian.

(Click https://reut.rs/3fZFOvm to see a picture package deal of China’s tree-planting programme.)

Tree-planting has been at the center of China’s environmental efforts for decades because the nation seeks to show barren deserts and marshes near its borders into farmland and display the capital Beijing from sands blowing in from the Gobi, a 500,000 sq.-mile expanse stretching from Mongolia to northwest China, which would coat Tiananmen Square in dust practically each spring.

But in March, heavy sandstorms hit Beijing for the primary time in six years, placing the nation’s reforestation efforts beneath scrutiny, with land more and more scarce and timber now not in a position to offset the impact of local weather change.

Now a local institution in northwest China’s Gansu province, Wang and his household lead busloads of younger volunteers from the provincial capital of Lanzhou into the desert every year to plant and irrigate new trees and bushes.

Their painstaking work to rehabilitate marginal land has been promoted as an inspiration for the remainder of the nation, and they are the subject of authorities propaganda posters celebrating their role in holding back the sand.

Over the last 4 decades, the Three-North Shelter Forest Programme, a tree-planting scheme recognized colloquially as the “Great Green Wall”, has helped elevate complete forest protection to nearly a quarter of China’s total area, up from lower than 10% in 1949.

Within the remote northwest, though, tree planting is just not merely about assembly state reforestation targets or protecting Beijing. When it comes to making a living from probably the most marginal farmland, every tree, bush and blade of grass counts – particularly as local weather change drives up temperatures and puts water provides underneath additional stress.

“The extra the forest expands, the extra it eats into the sands, the better it is for us,” mentioned Wang’s son, Wang Yinji, 53, who has taken over a lot of the backbreaking farming and planting whereas his father recovers from sickness.


In a battered jeep loaded with a water tank and flying a big Chinese nationwide flag, the Wang family have been planting the spindly “huabang” within the rolling dunes.

The flowering bush recognized as the sweetvetch has an 80% success rate even in harsh desert situations and has turn into a key a part of efforts to “hold down the sand”, a term used regionally for planting bushes and grasses in even squares throughout the desert slopes to cease sand drifting into nearby farmland.

The Wangs have been preventing desertification since they settled on barren land close to the village of Hongshui in Wuwei, a city in Gansu near the border with Inner Mongolia, in 1980.

Their dwelling is now surrounded by patches of rhubarb and rows of pines and blue spruces. Twenty bleating goats are locked in a wood paddock close by to cease them devouring the treasured vegetation.

The family’s 4 acres of farmland are protected on one facet by a forest planted a couple of decade in the past, and on the opposite by a long sandy cliff.

Trees have change into a major a part of the native economic system. Hongshui is dominated by a big state-owned business forest estate known as Toudunying.

“After 1999, when the tree-planting sped up, things got significantly better,” Wang Yinji said, referring to the state-led reforestation initiative. “Our corn grew taller. The sand that used to blow in from the east and northeast was stopped.”

Experts say China’s reforestation work has become extra subtle over the years, the federal government benefiting from many years of expertise and able to mobilise thousands of volunteers to plant bushes, emulating frontline pioneers like the Wangs.

However the struggle is far from over, they add, with local weather change set to worsen situations for farmers dwelling in the arid north.

“They have been dwelling in comparable circumstances for generations,” stated Ma Lichao, China country director for the Forest Stewardship Council, artificial lawn grass a non-profit organisation promoting sustainable forest administration. “Nevertheless it is essential to say that local weather change is one thing very new.”


China plans to increase complete forest protection from 23% final year to 24.1% by 2025, however the fixed enlargement has masked many underlying problems.

“There’s been comparatively low survival of bushes in some areas, and discussions in regards to the depletion of underground water tables,” mentioned Hua Fangyuan, a conservation biologist who focuses on forests at China’s Peking University.

Struggling to seek out area for new trees, the federal government of an administrative division in Inner Mongolia was accused in 2019 of seizing farmland to satisfy forest coverage targets set by Beijing. If you have any inquiries pertaining to the place and how to use synthetic turf [check out this one from Genius], you can speak to us at the internet site. Artificial monocultural plantations, akin to rubber, have also been created on the expense of natural forest, in line with some research.

“This (competing land use stress) is an issue not just for China however everywhere in the world,” said Hua. “We’re speaking about millions of hectares of targets. With the growing population, there is going to be competitors and tension.”

This competitors for land has been reinforced by China’s reliance on government-backed industrial-scale plantations to meet targets, although it is regularly shifting to a more nature-primarily based method to reforestation.

One such state-backed forest farm designed to repair the area’s overworked ecosystem is the 4,200-acre Yangguan challenge, on the outskirts of the city of Dunhuang, which has proven controversial.

Leaseholders eager to plant profitable but water-intensive grapes levelled large sections of forest in 2017. In March, a authorities investigation team found Yangguan had violated laws by allowing vineyards to be planted in protected forest. Villagers were also accused of illegally felling trees, and authorities have been ordered to reclaim the illegally occupied land.

Officials on the estate mentioned a whole bunch of staff from government companies in Dunhuang would arrive soon with the intention of planting 31,000 timber on ninety three acres of land in just 4 days. Gradually the surviving vineyards can be changed with timber, a manager said, a transfer that would have an effect on lots of of farmers.

“The federal government and the farmers ought to work collectively to find a way to generate income and make sure the water ranges are sustainable at the same time,” mentioned Ma of the Forest Stewardship Council.

There are signs that China has learned from previous errors, when bushes were planted – typically by scattering seeds from military aircraft – with no consideration for existing ecosystems or weather situations, which means many did not take root.

The federal government is now extra careful during which species it selects to plant, and extra inclined to make room for natural forests to develop, rather than create artificial plantations.

The forestry commission also plans to rethink its technique in northwest China to mirror considerations that new plantations have put water assets beneath extra strain, specialists mentioned.

But with native governments underneath stress to develop the financial system and assure food provides, China’s tree-planting might also be reaching a point of diminishing returns.

“It’s getting extra and more difficult to essentially enhance the forest coverage rate simply because there aren’t so many locations left for large reforestation initiatives,” mentioned Ma.

Changing Climate

Ma said the sandstorms that hit Beijing in March did not imply planting bushes had failed, but confirmed it will now not be sufficient to offset the impact of climate change.

“To be trustworthy, I don’t suppose the timber may help the situation,” he mentioned.

At a briefing final week, Li Jianjun of the China National Environmental Monitoring Centre said temperatures in Mongolia and Inner Mongolia have been 2-6 degrees Celsius increased than regular since February, with the melting snow exposing more sand to the wind.

Among the farmers in Wuwei have begun to lose hope after a long time making an attempt to subdue the deserts.

Ding Yinhua, a 69-year-previous shepherd, told Reuters the sandstorms had been so extreme that typically she didn’t dare open her eyes.

Despite the tree-planting, Synthetic turf pastures have deteriorated in recent years because of declining rainfall in the spring and summer time, she added.

“It’s just no good with out rain. We do not have land so there is not any other means: we just herd sheep. In 2015 and 2016, there was rain however since then there’s been nothing, and also you now have to attend until September,” she stated.

Her husband, Li Youfu, 71, mentioned he thought tree-planting had made no difference in any respect.

“The sand is still transferring. This cannot be controlled,” he mentioned. “When the wind comes, it’s usually actually robust. Nobody can cease it.