Many people think of Inner Mongolia as a vast grassland dotted with snow-white yurts and galloping horses.
This is not the full picture of the autonomous region, at least for Yin Yuzhen, a Shaanxi local who has been living in Inner Mongolia for more than 30 years. Her experience in the region is just the opposite: a vast expansion of desert as well as the desperation and isolation of living in it, where sandstorms could last for 40 days.
Yet together with her husband, the couple has converted parts of the Mu Us Desert, their isolated home, into a green zone. Yin’s idea of planting trees to improve her living conditions eventually paid off, despite much trial and error. The couple spent their savings and bought 600 saplings, among which only about 100 survived in the end. Now 32 years later, trees planted by the couple cover an area of more than 70,000 mu (4,667 hectares), and many people have followed suit to create a swathe of green.
“Trees for me were the only hope, even though the prospects were quite dim,” said Yin. Elion Resources Group Ltd., a company founded in 1988 in Inner Mongolia with the aim of ecological restoration and new energy exploration, has also spent decades tackling desertification and has made remarkable progress in Hobq Desert in Ordos, Inner Mongolia.
Over the past 29 years, the area of desertification eliminated by Elion has reached 10,000 square km, and another 6,000 square km have been transformed into regular land.
“Now the sandy weather in Hobq has decreased by 95 percent, and more than 100,000 locals have been lifted out of poverty,” Wang Wenbiao, President of Elion, told China Land and Resources News. “Compared with 1988, the rainfall here has increased six-fold.”
“Desertification is not just a project for ecological restoration; it can also help people in poverty live a better life,” said Wang.
Since a visit to Inner Mongolia in 2014 by President Xi Jinping, Inner Mongolia’s ecological protection has been fast tracked, with more efforts in desert control, grassland protection and water and soil preservation. Since 2011, the state has provided subsidies for ecological protection, which had amounted to 30 billion yuan ($4.29 billion) by 2016.
Now, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region has 182 nature reserves and 43 national forest parks. the country. In the past three years, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region has made significant progress in industrial restructuring. The proportion of coal-related industries dropped to 22 percent in 2016, compared with 34 percent in 2011.
Now, the over-reliance on natural resources for development in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region has changed, and various alternative industries, like developing a world class big data and cloud computing industry, have boomed in recent years.
“The output of the region’s big data industry is expected to surpass 100 billion yuan ($15 billion) by 2020,” said Bu Xiaolin, Chairwoman of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. In addition, tourism, increasing annually by over 20 percent on average, made the economy grow by an average of 7.9 percent each year from 2013 to 2016. Mongolians were traditionally referred to as “people who live on horseback” since they led a semi-nomadic pastoral lifestyle on grasslands. Now, modern technologies have also been adopted in many industries including livestock farming.
Many animals have been fitted with GPS collars to enable herdsmen to accurately locate them via computers or smartphones. Watering systems, which automatically maintain a certain level of water to ensure adequate supply for herds, have also been adopted in many areas in the region.
Since 2012, a total of 1.41 million people have been lifted out of poverty, and basic medical insurance now covers 98 percent of the combined urban and rural population. Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region’s urbanization rate has surpassed 60 percent.