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THE GREEN WALL OF CHINA Author: Hanna Swanepoel I stood on the Great Wall of China, built nearly 2000 years ago and stretching for about 6000km. I pictured how this fortress weathered natural storms and invaders from all sides. But there's another: the Green Wall of China, about twice the size of Britain. It's China's desertification combat, called the 'Three-North Shelterbelt Program/Three-North Shelter Forest program.' - the largest artificial forest in the world. The Gobi Desert in the north (the fastest growing desert in the world: nearly 2250 miles per year), and Taklaman in the southwest, are two deserts with harsh environments, acting as barriers in a natural defence in Ancient China from invaders, just like the Great Wall.
But why a shelter? This 1978-2050 vision is in many parts of the desert regions. Windbreaking forest strips/belts are implemented to keep the desert from expanding- nearly 4500km long. It reduces desertification even in "smaller" 380 km by 290 km deserts. Sand-tolerating vegetation is used, arranged in checkerboard patterns for sand stabilisation. Challenges are water, changes in weather patterns, extreme heat waves, cold, and drought.
Guinness World Records status in 2003 was achieved as the world's largest forestation in the world. John McKinnon, head of the EU-China Biodiversity Programme, explains: "China plants more trees than the rest of the world combined." In almost ten years, the strongest and most severe sandstorm hit Beijing and other parts of China last year, reducing visibility to less than 500m. Topsoil is lost every time these desert storms increase, and sand creeps as near as 150km from the capital. The Mu Us desert is one of the 4th largest in China, stretching 1000km by 42km, with sandstorms blowing nearly half of the year.
Tired of living in an underground sand cave-dwelling, Yin Yuzhen (born in 1966) began planting trees 30 years ago. She vowed secretly "to rather break her back in planting trees than to be bullied by the sand." Knowing nothing about planting trees in the desert, she exchanged the family's most valuable possessions- a lame ewe and newborn lamb, for more than 600 saplings. Together with her husband, they began their reforestation and desertification control efforts by planting trees first in front of their house.
Despite their efforts, only a dozen new saplings survived after sandstorms, winter and drought- watering from a 120 m deep well. Willows and poplars survived a few decades. After much research and experience, more species like Mongolian pines are planted in larger areas. The 4 700 hectares of sand changed into a forest. It's biodiversity protection for wildlife, deer, and birds who ran from the sandstorms. The trees have a survival rate of around 70%. Even watermelon and fruit trees grow in her garden. She established a company to build an ecological park and collect seeds, involving the community. Yin has received many awards since then, e.g., Desertification control model worker. Yin said in the beginning years; they found a way to be paid with saplings when doing farm or building work in their village. She stabilised the soil with grass, sand sagebrush, shrubs, and planted trees. Mice ate every grass and other seed she planted, no matter how deep, but then the idea struck to plant grass seeds in the hoofs of her one sheep. The seed will be disguised with the sheep's smell, and the mice won't find it. The grass grew. The forest grew. "This forest is just like my children, which are my hope," said Yin, gazing out into the distance of the endless green."
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