Areas of desertified, sandified land keep shrinking in China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region

The Horqin Sandy Land in Nugusitai Township, Horqin Left Wing Rear Banner, Tongliao, north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, is covered by plants after sand control. (Photo by Hua Weiguang/People's Daily Online)

Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, one of the provincial-regions in China that sees the densest distribution of deserts and sandy land, has achieved remarkable progress of desertification control thanks to its enhanced science-based efforts.

In the past five years, the areas of desertified and sandified land in the autonomous region dropped drastically, during which an average of 12 million mu (800,000 hectares) of land was covered by vegetation on an annual basis, accounting for nearly 40 percent of the country’s total.

In mid-March, plants are getting green again in an ecological demonstration zone run by Elion Group, a company committed to restoring eco-environment, in Kubuqi Desert, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

Engineers from the Elion Kubuqi Desert Research Institute are planning to plant a forest to enhance the carbon sink in the desert, control desertification and protect rivers, with the help of a big data platform of Elion Group.

“We started geological investigation in February, and purchased seedlings that can be grown on the desert, such as Salix cheilophila, Caragana korshinskii and pinus sylvestris,” said Lv Rong, chief engineer of the Elion Kubuqi Desert Research Institute. Tests showed that the survival rate of these seedlings stood at over 85 percent, he introduced.

Apart from the plants that match local ecology, Kubuqi also introduced other drought-enduring plants from other regions on similar latitude to increase plant diversity.

“Quality planting resources are the essence of desert control, so we specifically established a resource base of desert shrubs and rare and endangered plants. So far we have collected relevant materials of over 1,000 seeds of plants that can survive coldness, drought, as well as salt and alkali, and are developing and exporting some of the quality resources,” Lv told the People’s Daily.

The innovation of planting techniques improved the efficiency of desert control, too. The institute invented a series of new technologies, Lv said, including one that enables planters to plant a tree in a dozen seconds and saves over 50 percent of water. Such “minimally invasive” planting technique is widely applied, he noted, adding that by maximally reducing the disturbance to soil and ecology, it results in an over 90 percent survival rate of seedlings.

Today, 53 percent of Kubuqi Desert is covered by vegetation, up from less than 3 percent in 1980s. Besides, the precipitation and biodiversity are also on a sharp rise there, while the number of sandy days has dropped significantly.

“Minimally invasive” planting techniques developed in Kubuqi Desert have been widely applied and introduced to other sandy areas, including Horqin Sandy Land, Mu Us Desert, Ulan Buh Desert and Tengger Desert.

Desertification control is bringing a better life to local farmers and herdsmen, including Bhejarlin Bheyel, a man who finally defeated poverty living in the central part of the Horqin Sandy Land.

In recent years, local authorities not only banned pasturing, land reclaiming and lumbering, but also implemented eco-restoration projects and made forests with economic returns. Today, sand dunes are fixed by sea-buckthorns, and Bhejarlin Bheyel also became a forest ranger.

“Sea-buckthorns can be made into juice products, and also attract tourists,” the man said. Now he earns over 10,000 yuan ($1,536) as a forest ranger each year, and the annual income of his family adds up to 50,000 yuan including the dividends from the sea-buckthorn forest and the revenue of cattle breeding.