China has created a forest the size of France on top of the world, at the Qinghai Tibet Plateau, once a barren, cold wasteland of nothingness where even the spring wind would not reach.
For centuries, the plateau was a barren desert of bleakness and desolation. The local residents and even those in towns 70 kilometers away suffered from severe dust and sand storms caused by outflows of the loose sand up from the desert. Now, forests cover some 30,000 hectares of wide expanse due to an aggressive forestation drive that dates back 30 years ago.
“This is just one of the results since we began affoestation efforts in 1949, the results are impressive. Nationwide, some 40 million hectares of land are planted with trees”, said a spokesman of the Ministry of Forestry to this writer.
Afforestation means foresting an area with tree species never been grown in a certain land. Reforestation is the planting of tree species in an area where those trees used to grow.
World’s Largest Afforestation
The Qinghai Tibet Plateau afforestation is the biggest forestation accomplishment in the world.
The afforested land, more than the size of France, has increased China’s forest coverage from 10.6 percent in 1949 to 15 percent, which accounts for 25 percent of the world’s afforested area.
China once abounded with forests. But the forest reserves were depleted by recurrent wars, fires, land reclamation and indiscriminate logging Consequently, China’s total area of desert, denuded hills and wastelands in 1949 came to 240 million hectares, one fourth of its land area.
“The government has been paying great attention to afforestation to halt the denuding process, “said Prof. Weng Meng Li of the Beijing College of Forestry. “We have brought an annual average of 2.5 million hectares of land under afforestation from 1981 to 1986, twice the number that the old Soviet Union did and almost also twice the accomplishment of the United States in those five years”.
To maintain the attained 15 percent of tree coverage, China has to afforest 5.6 million hectares annually in the next 15 years, assuming that tree planting efforts have a survival rate of 100 percent. But this is not likely, because forestation efforts always chalk up to ten to fifteen percent mortality. Thus, it may take 25 to 30 years to complete afforestation of all possible plantable areas in China.
Trees Are the Only Answer against Desertification
Afforestation, according to Prof. Li is the only way to combat the advancing deserts along China’s northern frontier. China loses some 120,000 hectares of farm and pasture lands to desertification annually.
“Trees are the only line of defense”, Li says, adding that the farms and pastures lost were once forests but cleared for agriculture.
The Chinese dry lands have a long history of land use matched by a record of desertification, the natural phenomenon where once-forests and lands converted to abusive and unsustainable farming practices become deserts.
Of China’s 170,000 square kilometers desert area, 50,000 sq. km were desertified from 1900-2000. Besides abusive farming, wind is the main factor especially in western China where it pushes sand dunes, drifting sand and deflated topsoils, aggravated by salinization and sand burial low river beds.
To combat this, we have to plant thousands of rows of trees to stop desert invasion, reforest arable lands and meet head-on the incoming desert by planting trees going forward,” Prof Li stressed.
Trees Create China’s Green Great Wall
What Li refers to is called China’s “Green Great Wall”, a shelterbelt of millions of trees on the northern side of the country that started in 1978. It extends 7,000 kilometers from northern Heilongjiang province in the northeast to Heitian prefecture of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous region in the west, traversing more than 200 counties in 12 provinces and regions including Inner Mongolia, Shanxi, Ganau and Nirgxia.
The first phase was planted with some 50 million trees from 1980 to 1985, covered six million hectares of land. In the second phase which ended in 1990, another 6.3 million hectares were planted with trees by thousands of volunteers soldiers and public servants.
The Great Green Wall has helped hold back sand storms, promote soil and water conservation and improve conditions for farming and livestock breeding.
Take the town of Yulin, Shanxi province at the foot of Great Green Wall, it has saved 330,000 hectares of farmland from desertification through afforestation after sand buried houses and farms in 1949. As a result, forests sprouted from the desert.
Tree planting involves everyone in China. Every Chinese citizen above the age of 11, except the old, sick, weak and disabled, is required to plant five trees every year or contribute the same amount of labor by cultivating saplings, tending trees or doing other work connected with tree planting.
China designated March 12 as its National Tree Planting, on this day, millions of people swarm to the mountains, wastelands, plains, roadsides and on every piece of land to plant trees.
They plant three kinds of trees:” trees of the same age” to mark a child birth, “heart to heart trees” to celebrate marriage, and “memorial trees” to commemorate those who passed away. Considering China’s 1.7 billion population, this translates to 1.7 billion new trees annually.
Combating Global Warming
China, the world’s major CO2 emitter because of its coal consumption is attempting to offset its carbon footprint by planting trees.
The government announced several forestry goals, which include increasing the country’s forest coverage rate to more than 26 percent by 2050.
New forest areas will be created in Hebei and Qinghai provinces to cover all of the Tibetan Plateau and in the Hunshandake Desert in Inner Mongolia to cost about US$83 billion in an attempt to put the country’s total forest area to 208 million hectares, Prof Li bared, adding the trees will boost the nation’s carbon sink capacity.
He said government is also promoting an “ecological red line” program to force provinces and regions to restrict “irrational development” to curb construction near rivers, forests and national parks.
China has also embarked on a forestry responsibility campaign barren hillsides and mountain slopes are allocated o peasant families to plant with fruit-bearing trees and trees of other importance provided they are not cut in the future and that the families pay a minimal tax to the government.