A breath of fresh air
As the larch trees grew, they shed their needle-shaped leaves, which decomposed over the course of time, providing nutrients to nourish other vegetation such as shrubs and flowers. As the forest grew denser with more varieties of vegetation, it attracted wild animals such as boars, badgers, deer and birds, who settled there, filling the woods with vitality and restoring the ecological system.
Now, Saihanba has 261 invertebrate species, 660 insect species, 179 fungus species and 625 plant species, according to a Xinhua News Agency report.
“Left to nature, it would have taken at least 100 years to restore the barren sandy land, while Saihanba regained its forest ecosystem in only 50-plus years, making an important contribution to China’s ecological progress,” said Huang Xuanrui, Dean of the College of Forestry, Agricultural University of Hebei.
The desertification and sandification monitoring report released by the province in 2009 showed that in the previous five years, the sandified land near Beijing and Tianjin had shrank by 74,700 hectares.
In recent years, the annual average sandstorm days in Beijing have been reduced to about 7.5 days and the annual average precipitation increased by 66.3 mm, according to China Meterological Administration. The number of strongly windy days has been reduced by 30 days.
As the farm went into operation with large-scale tree planting mostly completed in the 1980s, the question was how to make it sustainable and profitable.
With logging being the traditional business model for state-owned forest farms, a hard fiberboard plant was set up in Saihanba in 1981 to process the inferiorquality trees rejected for farm use. This became a major revenue source.
But today, a more profitable business is selling saplings of spruce, larch and Mongolian scotch pine. A 15-year-old spruce tree, that is usually around 7 meters tall, can fetch the same amount of money as timber from 30 trees of the same age, according to Wang Liming, in charge of the farm’s plant nursery.
The farm has become an important sapling nursery in north China. In 2016, sapling sales generated an income of more than 11.95 million yuan ($1.82 million). By reducing logging and expanding the sapling nursery, the farm has also increased the forest volume and area.
A side business of the farm is ecotourism. According to the county’s Culture and Tourism Bureau, there are over 500,000 visits to Saihanba annually, yielding more than 40 million yuan ($6 million) in entrance ticket income and creating 15,000 direct jobs. Local residents benefit from this by providing lodging, catering and transportation services and selling artifacts and other specialty products. Every year, tourism adds more than 600 million yuan ($90 million) to the local economy.
Saihanba has also launched a carbon sequestration project. Liu Haiying, head of the forest farm, said that the farm’s total volume of sequestered carbon is equivalent to 4.75 million tons of carbon dioxide. So far, 183,000 tons of sequestered carbon had been listed for sale. If all the sequestered carbon is sold, it will generate at least $15.19 million in revenue.