China builds strong ecological barrier with science-based desertification control


China has implemented multiple measures to combat desertification over the recent years, achieving fruitful results. The areas of land desertification and soil desertification were both reduced, and hazards of sandstorms and soil erosion were effectively curbed.

As of the end of 2022, the country had completed desertification prevention and control missions on 305 million mu (20.33 million hectares) of land, sealed off 27.08 million mu of desertificated land for protection, and established 41 national comprehensive demonstration zones for desertification control and 99 national desert parks, forging a science-based green ecological barrier with trees, shrubs and grass along the regions in north China prone to sandstorms.

Water shortage has become an increasingly prominent issue in the farming-pastoral areas in China’s semi-arid regions over the past decades. Frequent droughts, descending underground water level and flow cutoffs of rivers and lakes are posing new challenges to maintaining sand-fixing vegetation.

Thanks to technologies developed by the Naiman Desertification Research Station of Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and Resources under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), water loss from soil during artificial afforestation has been significantly reduced, which effectively improves the survival of seedlings and ensures efficient utilization of water resources in the desert of semi-arid regions.

Besides, Chinese eco-company Elion Group also developed an innovative planting method, which saves more than 50 percent of water consumption and lifts survival rate to 85 percent.

The spatial and temporal distribution of water resources as well as the water holding capacity of soil should be taken into consideration in artificial afforestation, and local rainfed tree and grass varieties that can stay vital on dry, lean and saline-alkaline soil shall be prioritized for water conservation, said Lu Qi, chief scientist of the Chinese Academy of Forestry, and researcher with the academy’s Ecology and Nature Conservation Institute.

Technologies should also be applied to strengthen the utilization of water resources, Lu added.

Lei Jiaqiang, researcher with the CAS Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography, told People’s Daily that building a germplasm bank of adversity-resistant desert plants is the foundation for developing water-conserving forests and grasslands.

Plants should be irrigated according to their actual demand in a targeted manner and based on the law of water consumption, and technologies should be applied to curb water loss in soil, Lei said.

“Besides, it is also important to strengthen the construction of water-conservation facilities for desertification control, place more attention on building ecological channels for combating desertification, and enhance the efforts to protect ecological dams and other infrastructure facilities,” the researcher added.

China follows a “close-to-nature” approach in desertification prevention and control. Local plant species and science-based artificial management measures shall be used to restore degraded ecosystems to the state before they were disturbed by human activities, so as to ensure that desert ecosystems are bio-diverse and have complete, stable and sustainable structures and functions, Lei noted.

From adopting measures according to the degree of damage to developing relevant industries to combat desertification, how to fully and properly utilize the natural resources in deserts has always been an important topic of the studies on desertification control.

China has established a batch of characteristic industrial bases that leverage local resources to develop fodder manufacturing, commercial fruit planting and desert tourism. According to statistics, 48 million tons of dried and fresh fruits are produced in China’s desert areas each year, accounting for about a quarter of China’s total production with a total annual output value of 120 billion yuan ($16.81 billion). In key areas, over half of farmers’ net income is from the fruit business.

China takes desertification prevention and control, rural vitalization, ecological protection and high-quality development of the Yellow River basin, and other major national strategies as an organic whole.

While developing crop farming, animal husbandry, green food, sand-based materials and desert tourism, the country is also vigorously investing in high-input industries that yield high output and high profits. It has launched a number of photovoltaic generation, wind power generation, agricultural factory and artificial photosynthesis projects in desert areas.

Apart from strengthening desertification control at home, China is also enhancing its cooperation with other countries and has achieved remarkable accomplishments in basic research and applied research. Chinese scientists have developed over 100 desertification control technologies with Chinese characteristics, which are widely promoted and applied in some 40 countries and regions in Asia and Africa.


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