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China on the move: Meeting environmental challenges

2009-09-25 13:16 BJT

Special Report: 60th Anniversary of PRC |

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The Alashan league is located in the west of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. It's one area which has seen decades of fierce effort to fight desertification. Liu Ying examines conservation efforts being made there as well as in other places in the country.

Reporter Liu Ying said, "I'm now standing on the Alashan desert, at the western end of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. It's the second largest desert in China, and fourth largest in the world. The Alashan is considered a major source of sandstorms which have blasted North China over the past decades."

The battle to hold back the desert in Alashan over the past decade has had some success. Official figures show the speed of desertification has fallen from a thousand square kilometers a year at the beginning of this century to 280 square kilometersr.

But the sands are still coming.

Ma Yanwei, the project director of the environmental NGO SEE, believes the environment is still in danger.

Ma said, "Alashan faces two main ecological problems. First, desert plants, such as the saxaul tree, are gradually degenerating. The acreage of saxaul forest has shrunk from 14 million hectares in the 1970s to less than 6 million hectares today. Second, as farmland expands, agricultural production has led to significant reduction of groundwater. If the situation continues, in decades, the ecology may rupture, or even collapse."

Ma Yanwei believes it's essential to help the local herdsmen adopt a more ecologically friendly way of production and living.

With their support, some herdsmen have shifted from grazing to growing the medicinal herb Cistanche, which grows on the saxaul. This has made people aware of the importance of protecting the trees.

Guo Xinjun, a herdsman of Alashan League of Inner Mongolia, said, "In the past, saxauls were only seen as the food of camels. But now, herdsmen realize saxauls are important for protecting the environment. And if saxauls thrive, so does Cistanche. That means more income for us."