BEIJING, August 29, 2013 – Desertification is the damage to the earth and one of the biggest threats to human existence. The Kubuqi International Desert Forum recently organized by the UN and held in China once again arouses worldwide attention to the severe situation of global desertification. Meanwhile, China’s successful experience in treating Kubuqi Desert and the “public welfare oriented and sustainable commercial model for sandification control” in which enterprises are drawn to treat desertification tell the people that effectively treated deserts can also become nice places for humans to live.

Experts say, treating Kubuqi Desert is a reference for other parts of the world to control sandificaton.

Containing desertification and making deserts a better place can reduce poverty and help sustainable use of land.

Development of modern technologies related to water conservation, soil keeping and sand fixation lays the solid foundation for treating and developing deserts.

Professor Wang Tao, Lanzhou Branch Chinese Academy of Sciences: China’s experience in treating desertification

The land degradation in arid, semi-arid desertified areas is caused mainly by the climate, including wind, water and degrading biological diversity. It affects about 300 million population in the northern areas and causes a loss of RMB54 billion annually. The Great Wall built by ancient Chinese several thousand years ago has been submerged by the desert, vegetation has been seriously damaged and the local residents have been affected by sandstorms all year around. Desertification had actually shown a trend of year-on-year growth in North China before 2000. 

Since six decades ago, China has carried out work related to desertification prevention and control. The efforts have produced notable results, and won recognition and praise from international organizations including the UNDP. After joining the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, China released the Law on Prevention and Control of Desertification, which took effect as of January 1, 2002. Moreover, there are also some State-level large projects aimed to prevent and control sandification, such as the North Shaanxi shelter forest system, a project initiated three decades ago and turning out to be fruitful, and the project of returning farmland to forests, which has been implemented with RMB75 billion of funds from the Chinese government.

Besides, China also has some successful experience in preventing and controlling sandification, particularly in the protection of railways and roads. China has successfully protected 40-km trunk railways by developing shelter forests along the railways over the past four decades. To protect Taklimakan Desert Highway, the world’s longest desert highway, China has taken measures to prevent sandification in many areas along the highway, and the move has drawn many engineers and technical experts.

Desertified land in North China has decreased since 2000, and should shrink by 1,000 sq km or more annually at present. On the whole, about 10% of the desertified land has been controlled, and another 12% improved.

Professor Shi Minjun, Deputy Director of CAS Research Center on Fictitious Economy & Data Science: Let enterprises join in desertification control

Desertification is largely caused by human factors. For example, part of Ke’erqin has turned from grassland to sandified areas due to excessive reclamation and grazing. Gansu sees some areas being sandified, and the unreasonable use of land still continues. In Zhangyan oasis in the middle part of Gansu, farmland has been expanding by 30,000 hectares over the past decade, with the newly increased farmland mainly as the transition belt between oases and deserts. Newly increased farmland is also seen Heilongjiang, Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang. 

Changing the way of using land is the key to control desertification. That includes restricting grazing in semi-arid areas, returning farmland to forests and well managing water in arid areas, such as how to manage saved water and manage exploitation of underground water. The concept about public welfare needs to be introduced to regulate scattered behaviors by individual farmers.

Meanwhile, the mechanism for interest compensation needs to be introduced as well. Popularization of some new technologies, improvements in rural credit and urbanization measures can change the way in which farmers use land. Technological progress, for example, can expand their fields of production and enrich their choices. Improving credit services can ease the financial pressure on farmers. Either technological progress or improving rural services shall be combined with environmental regulation, or it may have negative effects. 

Enterprises can join in desertification control. With an increasing number of farmers, desertification control needs intensive input of knowledge and capital, which can accelerates industrialization and alleviates financial and technical constraints during desertification control and agricultural production. But farmers may behave on a pattern less based on intensive input of knowledge and capital. So, participation by enterprises can expand the ways for land operation, increase land returns and ease the pressure on land.

Governments shall provide corresponding incentives, diverting flows of capital to desertification control through policies and systems. Mechanisms in fiscal, tax and some more fields may be needed in the future.

Of course, reasonable environmental regulation on enterprises’ participation in desertification control is indispensable. For example, restricting the load on the ecological system and regulating land use behaviors benefit both economy and environment.

Professor Safriel, former director-general of the Blaustein Institute for Desert, University of the Negev: Make the deserts flourish with policies and technologies

Israel has many desert areas. We have a slogan known as “make the deserts flourish”.

In summer, Israel has a dry season as long as seven months, during which rainwater is steamed even before flowing underground. Israel built a 300-km pipeline that transmits water from the north to south to reduce the loss of rainwater. This provides 30% clean water and 20% recycled water to agricultural production. The project was mainly completed by the government, which is the owner of water resources, as well as some regulators and research institutes.

In the areas with excessive grazing, we reduce agricultural activities and develop animal husbandry and dairy plants. In some delta areas, we carry out trade with Asian areas and areas west of Israel. 

The government also offers desert residents some incentives to control sandification in the places where they live and improve their living environment. Detailed practices include constructing pipes, planting grass and building high-tech greenhouses in the desert, as well as developing ecological tourism, desert tourism and protecting biological diversity. Some present vegetation is protected to balance the ecology and change the desert into non-desert dry areas, and efforts are also made to minimize effects of the process on the climate.

As for sandification control, Israel has two aspects of experience to share. First, we arouse the enthusiasm in residents by offering them awards, insurance, infrastructures and education. Most desert residents are farmers and herders, who are poorly educated and need training. Second, the government provides funds to some research institutes for them to develop high-end technologies and services.

Professor Shi Peijun: Vice President of Beijing Normal University: Protect ecology on a large scale and carry out production on a small scale

Sandification is a global issue. Sandification control shall be based on the principles including ecological construction, water balance, landscape protection and putting protection before control. 

Sand can be fixed either mechanically or chemically. The purpose of controlling sand is to ensure the sustainability of sandified areas. First, industries shall be developed in an ecological manner, and ecological construction shall be industrialized. Next, production shall be combined with ecological construction, with the focus on preventing the expansion of desertified areas. The law of nature shall be respected, and the contents of industrial development shall be highlighted.

Efforts shall be made to increase farmers’ income by harmonizing ecological restoration with industrialization, and to make farmers shoulder corresponding ecological responsibilities during the money-making process. Hence, industrial substitution and restructuring is a must for ecological construction and industrialization. 

In such areas, the efficient use of water resources is the key. Some places even see water more expensive than oil. Through industrial substitution and restructuring, new industrial belts are likely to appear in the western areas, and the sandified areas are most promising. In the eastern areas, ecological safety can be balanced with operational benefits, but the use of land must follow the principle of ecological protection. In such areas, ecology shall be protected on a large scale and protection shall be carried out on a smaller scale, which is a major strategic transformation in the mode of production.