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Desertification defense line takes shape

Farmer Chen Yonggui has began to see greenery return after a ten-year fight against the desertification by growing a clump of desert bush on his barren land located on the rim of the Mu Us Desert with non-interest loans from the World Bank.

Chen's village, named Dagou, in north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, was in the first group to be included in the World Bank-assisted water conservation project in China.

Funded jointly by the World Bank and the Chinese government with 808 million yuan (103.5 million US dollars), the project ended this year. It took a decade to treat 3,908 square km of eroded soil and desertified land on the Loess Plateau.

In addition to the loans, the Chinese government's accumulated appropriations will amount to 12 billion yuan (1.5 billion US dollars) by the year 2010 to reinforce a natural ecological barrier to prevent four of the country's eight big deserts from sabotaging the region's ecology.

Spanning 4,200 kilometers from east to west, the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region lies in China's northern border, some five hours ride north of China's capital Beijing, and forms a natural barrier with lush green grasslands and forests to shelter the country's political and economic center.

Desertification has devoured 420,000 square km of land, or 35.5percent of the region's territory.

But according to Zhu Lieke, deputy director of the State Forestry Administration, "Desertification has slowed for the first time in decades this year."

The autonomous region, once a herding paradise for nomadic Mongolians, is still the country's largest animal husbandry producer, raising 100 million livestock annually. Overgrazing that left large grasslands areas barren was eradicated by 2000 and the ecological system has been recovering.

"Herding has been prohibited in most pastures in Inner Mongolia, and in some areas, rotated herding is implemented. Herdsmen have become farmers to grow fodder plants to raise livestock," said Gao Xilin, a forestry official of the regional government.

He said that local officials at different levels are under job assessment pressure to control desertification. Officials once obliged to execute administrative orders on anti-herding and desertification treatment have become keen to nurture a desert plant manufacturing industry to sustain anti-desertification efforts.

Gao said that desert plants such as raspberries and osiers reaped on the treated land have been used to produce tonic beverages and high-density slabs as furniture material.

The desert industry is giving 400 yuan (50 US dollars) in income per-capita annually to farmers, who fight the encroaching desertification, and is helping some 200,000 farmers recover from poverty. The frequency of sandstorms generated in the region has reduced from 20 a year to about 10 a year within the last decade.


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