Tree plant­ing drive re­shapes econ­omy

Ef­fort span­ning decades turned bare land into tourist at­trac­tion

China Daily (Latin America Weekly) - - China - By ZHENG JINRAN in Youyu, Shanxi zhengjin­ran@ chi­nadaily.com.cn

Wang De­gong, a 73-yearold res­i­dent of Youyu county, Shanxi prov­ince — on the edge of the vast Or­dos Desert — has seen the area trans­formed from bar­ren land to a tourist at­trac­tion over the past six decades.

“There was only one wind a year, but it lasted from spring un­til win­ter,” he said, re­call­ing the pow­er­ful gusts and swirling sands of his child­hood.

In 1949, when the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China was founded, Youyu had only a few trees, and the desert was ex­pand­ing. For­est cov­er­age was a mi­nus­cule 0.3 per­cent.

“I re­mem­ber that we planted trees, be­liev­ing it was the only way to re­duce the desert and re­claim land for us to live,” said Wang, adding that when he was 14 or 15 years old, stu­dents would dig holes for trees dur­ing a 40-day span in spring and au­tumn.

Af­ter 1949, the coun­try’s lead­er­ship en­cour­aged res­i­dents to plant trees. Now half the county is cov­ered. For­est cov­er­age was 51 per­cent last year, ac­cord­ing to the county gov­ern­ment.

“Our be­lief in plant­ing trees has brought us more fa­vor­able liv­ing con­di­tions,” said Wang Zhi­jian, head of the county gov­ern­ment, in Septem­ber at the Trans-Cen­tury Tour of Chi­nese En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion, an event or­ga­nized by the En­vi­ron­ment and Re­sources Com­mit­tee of the Na­tional Peo­ple’s Congress.

At the event, Wang noted the sig­nif­i­cant ben­e­fits gained from the ex­pand­ing for­est, start­ing with im­proved weather con­di­tions.

The av­er­age recorded wind speed in 2015 was slower than in 1985. Hail­stones were recorded seven times a year in the 1950s and 60s, but only about once or twice an­nu­ally in re­cent years, he said.

In 2015, the num­ber of days with sand­storms was half that of the 1950s, ac­cord­ing to the county forestry bureau.

“The con­tin­u­ous tree plant­ing ef­forts also in­creased the in­comes of the res­i­dents and lifted many out of poverty,” Wang said.

At least 120 house­holds cur­rently make money through re­lated busi­nesses, such as sell­ing seedlings and small trees.

Youyu county has the most land area in North China cov­ered by Mon­go­lian pine trees. Trees were planted across 216 hectares by about 332 res­i­dents, who earned an av­er­age of 5,160 yuan ($780), he said.

An­other 394 res­i­dents are en­gaged in pa­trolling for­est ar­eas and pro­tect­ing the trees, which also adds to their in­comes.

The county plans to con­tinue plant­ing trees on suit­able land, aim­ing to ex­pand the cov­er­age area to 58 per­cent of the to­tal by 2020.

“Youyu’s suc­cess in plant­ing trees and re­duc­ing de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion makes it a role model for other places and has made it a na­tional eco­log­i­cal demon­stra­tion zone,” said Peng Youdong, deputy head of the State Forestry Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

In­creased for­est cov­er­age was spec­i­fied as a tar­get in the coun­try’s plans for so­cial and eco­nomic growth as out­lined in the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20).

By 2020, China will ex­pand for­est cov­er­age to about 23 per­cent, un­der the plan, and suc­cess sto­ries like Youyu county’s of­fer valu­able lessons for the na­tional cam­paign, Peng said.

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