Lo­cal com­pany helps herds­men fight sand and poverty

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - LIFE | PEOPLE - By ME­LANIE PETERS in Hang­gin, In­ner Mon­go­lia

Babu Siren runs a thriv­ing busi­ness that in­cludes restau­rants and dune buggy rides in Hang­gin Ban­ner of the In­ner Mon­go­lia au­ton­o­mous re­gion. He also farms sheep and licorice.

Life is a far cry from more than a decade ago when he strug­gled to sup­port his fam­ily as a no­madic herder in the Kubuqi Desert, which was re­ferred to as the “sea of death” be­cause of its harsh con­di­tions and the poverty in which peo­ple around it lived. The sand dunes had swal­lowed the grass­lands.

And, sand­storms from there even pol­luted Bei­jing, which is 1,200 kilo­me­ters away.

Babu Siren, who is from the Mon­go­lian eth­nic group, and a large num­ber of other desert dwellers are now reap­ing the ben­e­fits from the work of lo­cal com­pa­nies and com­mu­ni­ties.

One ex­am­ple is Or­dos­based Elion Re­source Group that has in­vested more than 30 bil­lion yuan ($4.4 bil­lion) in the past 30 years in a plan to tackle de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion and al­le­vi­ate poverty.

Babu Siren says dur­ing the peak sea­son in sum­mer, he hosts some 1,000 vis­i­tors a day, and makes 150,000 yuan a year.

“I no longer have to worry where my fam­ily’s next meal is com­ing from.”

Ahead of the 6th Kubuqi In­ter­na­tional Desert Fo­rum, to be held from July 28 to 30, Elion says its model can be repli­cated in other parts of the world to fight drought and poverty.

The fo­rum will be held in the desert and is seen as a ma­jor ac­tiv­ity in in­ter­na­tional ef­forts on such front. This year’s theme is “green­ing the Belt and Road, shar­ing desert eco-econ­omy”.

Around 300 gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, en­trepreneurs, econ­o­mists, sci­en­tists and artists from dif­fer­ent coun­tries are ex­pected to at­tend the fo­rum, where Elion will also dis­cuss how it helped save more than 6,000-square-km of land from de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion by grow­ing herbs used in tra­di­tional Chi­nese medicine, build­ing a so­lar en­ergy unit and con­struct­ing 300 km of road in Hang­gin.

The herb of choice here is licorice, which thrives in a tough en­vi­ron­ment. It has stim­u­lated in­dus­tries to im­prove the lives of the lo­cal peo­ple who earn an in­come through farm­ing the plant and leas­ing land to grow it. These herbs also help to slow down de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion and grad­u­ally trans­form the desert ar­eas into arable lands.

The “green wall” also acts like a bar­rier to counter the ef­fects of sand­storms and helps to re­ha­bil­i­tate the land.

Wang Wen­biao, a se­nior econ­o­mist and chair­man of the board of the Elion Re­sources Group, was be­stowed the honor of Global Dry­land Cham­pion by the United Na­tions in 2013 for the com­pany’s work in the desert. Through much ad­ver­sity, Wang, who was born in Hang­gin, re­al­ized his dream of de­feat­ing poverty and im­prov­ing the lives of his com­mu­nity.

Wang de­scribes his child­hood mem­o­ries of his home­town in a word “sand”. He says changes in the area would not have been pos­si­ble with­out gov­ern­ment sup­port and peo­ple’s par­tic­i­pa­tion.

Monique Bar­but, the ex­ec­u­tive sec­re­tary-gen­eral of the UN Con­ven­tion to Com­bat De­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion, says the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of the desert is a model for the global com­mu­nity, and it can bal­ance the ecosys­tem and the econ­omy.

Ac­cord­ing to a UN study, parts of Africa and Asia are at sim­i­lar risk, as are parts of North Amer­ica.

In June, Bar­but spoke at a UN con­ven­tion in Bei­jing, where the Joint Ac­tion Ini­tia­tive to com­bat de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion, re­ha­bil­i­tate de­graded land and mit­i­gate the ef­fects of drought was launched. The ini­tia­tive aims to make China’s am­bi­tious re­ju­ve­na­tion of the old Silk Road en­vi­ron­men­tally sus­tain­able.

The Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive plans to boost economies from China, the Per­sian Gulf and the Mediter­ranean to parts of Africa, Asia and Europe. But these plans could prove fu­tile as many of the coun­tries in­volved in the ini­tia­tive are af­fected by de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion and drought.

Bar­but ear­lier called for the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to come up with long-term solutions to “bat­tle the rav­ages of drought and flood which are de­stroy­ing com­mu­ni­ties”. She warned that drought and floods dev­as­tate fam­i­lies and desta­bi­lize com­mu­ni­ties be­cause they lead to mass mi­gra­tions, leav­ing the vul­ner­a­ble open to hu­man rights abuses and long-term se­cu­rity threats.

She also be­lieves China’s ex­pe­ri­ence in help­ing re­vive the health of deserts could ben­e­fit ini­tia­tives such as Africa’s Great Green Wall, a project that aims to grow 8,000 km of trees and plants across the width of the con­ti­nent to pro­vide food and jobs.

I no longer have to worry where my fam­ily’s next meal is com­ing from.” Babu Siren, busi­ness­man in Hang­gin Ban­ner, In­ner Mon­go­lia au­ton­o­mous re­gion

The au­thor is an on­line ed­i­tor of South African news­pa­per Week­end Ar­gus.

PHO­TOS BY ME­LANIE PETERS

So­lar pan­els help de­velop green en­ergy in Or­dos. Elion, the Or­dos-based com­pany, leads the ef­forts of lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties to tackle de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion and al­le­vi­ate poverty.

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