Turning the Ulan Buh Desert into a High Yield Zero Pollution Eco-agricultural Zone

Exhibitor

HomelandGreen Limited

http://homelandgreen.hk/Home/t31.html


Team

Josephine Wen Ning Chen
Wendy Wong
Connie Lam
Daniel Yuen


Location

Summary

Ulan Buh is the eighth major desert in China and one of the major sources of sandstorms affecting North-eastern Asia and even further South until recently.  The restoration of Ulan Buh began some 43 years ago as part of the Three-North ShelterBelt Program and HomelandGreen began to get involved with voluntary afforestation some eight years ago and has the privilege to witness and record the fastest progress of land restoration ever imagined within six years.  Ever since the enactment of ecological civilization construction as national policy in 2012, HomelandGreen has witnessed how this remote and poverty-stricken sandy land be turned into a zero-pollution eco-agricultural green zone, practicing circular economy through the concerted efforts of cross-disciplined government officials, small businesses and entrepreneurs, NGOs, voluntary agencies and of course, the local people, resulting not only in ecological recovery but improvement in livelihood of the inhabitants. By sharing this story, HomelandGreen wants to bring a positive message to the international community that with sufficient political willpower and knowledge, large scale ecological recovery that benefits both people and the planet is absolutely feasible.

Presentation

Greening the Ulan Buh Desert



Main points of the Presentation

  • The process of turning the Ulan Buh into a zero pollution eco-agricultural green zone
  • A first-hand story reported by HomelandGreen – a Hong Kong based charitable organization whose members took part in voluntary tree planting in the area for 9 years

Who are we and how we got involved?

HomelandGreen is a Hong Kong based charitable organization established by a small group of volunteers on 17 June 2013, World Day to Combat Desertification, with the motto ‘Be just to the earth; for the sake of all beings.’ To this date, we only have less than ten active members, mostly full-time career workers and a few retirees. We receive no public fund and run all programs from our own reserves. HomelandGreen will be used throughout this presentation to mean HomelandGreen.HomelandGreen began our involvement in voluntary tree planting projects to combat desertification in 2012 in Inner Mongolia after learning of the incredible story of the land restoration work of NPO-GreenLife in Hure Banner. The once totally degraded land was consequently turned back into arable land and local peasants managed to make a better living by adopting sustainable zero-waste agroforestry practices. Subsequently, HomelandGreen became a collaborative partner of NPO-GreenLife.

Before the formal establishment of HomelandGreen and the subsequent involvement in tree planting projects, our founding member dug deep into the problem of desertification in China

  • Her footsteps spanned across Xinjiang, Ningxia, Tibet, Qinghai, Gansu, Inner Mongolia, Shaanxi provinces where most of the arid and semi-arid areas of China are. Such area occupies about 27.23% of the total national area.
  • She visited officials of the China Desert Control Bureau, the Forestry and Agricultural Bureau, the Three North ShelterBelt Program, the Museum of Desert Control in Ningxia and the earliest six sand control laboratories in Dengkou, Minqin, Yulin, Lingwu, Golmud and Toksun (marked red in the map), all built before 1958.
  • What she saw and learned led her to the establishment of HomelandGreen with like-minded friends to support civilian tree planting activities at the plantation sites of NPO-GreenLife in different parts of Inner Mongolia.

What HomelandGreen also learns…

  • Through the various tree planting experience and study trips, HomelandGreen also learned of the world-wide land degradation problem not only in extremely arid areas but also as a result of exploitative agricultural practices all over the world in the past several decades and that working from the soil up can be an alternative way of farming that may help remediate a lot of the damages done to agricultural land and as a way of mitigating climate change.
  • HomelandGreen responded by taking up the role of promoting regenerative farming in Hong Kong beginning 2014. The strategies HomelandGreen adopted for this mission and the progress made through these seven years will be reported as another story under the theme ‘Promoting Regenerative Farming and Green Consumption in Hong Kong’.

What do we do in Ulan Buh? And why Ulan Buh?

  • HomelandGreen organized volunteers from Hong Kong to help plant Haloxylon in Ulan Buh coordinated by NPO-GreenLife.
  • Ulan Buh is one of the 4 plantation sites of NPO-GreenLife.

Why planting Haloxylon? Was it always such happy and light-hearted experience?

This is the story we want to tell.

  • What we intend to share in this presentation are records of the changes we saw through our eight years of involvement in these voluntary planting projects.
  • We witness how the Ulan Buh desert was transformed from a stormy dusted inhabitable land of migrating sand into a zero-pollution eco‑agricultural green zone practicing circular economy through the concerted efforts of cross-disciplined officials from central to local government, small businesses and entrepreneurs, NGOs and voluntary agencies, and of course, the local people, resulting not only in ecological recovery but improvement in the livelihood of the inhabitants.
  • All materials used in this presentation are authentically our own collection and production.

Nothing happens overnight. First, a few words about Ulan Buh

  • Ulan Buh is the eighth largest deserts of China. The total area is about 10,000 sq km, about 4 times of that of Luxembourg (2,586 sq km)
  • Located in the west bank of the Yellow River, it is under the administration of Dengkou, a county of the Bayannur City in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.
  • Dengkou County housed one of the six earliest desert control laboratories during the infant stage of the PRC.
  • It was notorious for being the source of sandstorms that frequently scour northern China, or periodically even southeastern Asia till the first decade of the 21st century.

Is Ulan Buh a natural desert?

  • Five centuries ago, before the Ming Dynasty, it was once a rich prosperous agricultural land.
  • But population boom, warfare, land exploitation and overgrazing eventually turned the once productive area into the endless sand dunes by the 1950-60s.

Weather hazards were a common place during early days of HomelandGreen tree planting trips in the vicinity of Dengkou

Sandstorms would strike any time during tree planting activities. Volunteers had to take shelter to stay safe.

From our studies, we learned that attempts to control the sands in the deserts began back in the 1950s.

  • Those were the days when scientific research in desert restoration was not well-established.
  • The major tasks then was to find the cheapest and most effective means to stabilize the migrating sand to keep the deserts from expanding.
  • This picture taken during one of the HomelandGreen study trips shows workers laying straw checkerboards along the Taklamakan Desert Road, a strategy still widely used in all desert control projects over China, including Ulan Buh, even to date. 

The straw checkerboards method used in Ulan Buh

  • Physically, the straw checkerboards work by slowing down the wind and reducing sand mobility. Biologically, after a few years, when the straws dry up, decay and decompose, the aggregated residues become sand barriers. Though no irrigation is needed for this first step, this is a very labour-intensive undertaking.
  • Average annual precipitation in Ulan Buh is only 100mm. Evaporation rate is 17 times more. This makes the environment too dry for any vegetation.
  • Miles and miles of straw grid along the highway (built only in 2014) is a common sight after 50 years of laborious efforts.


In those early days, scientists also experimented with the various indigenous plants still in existence and tried to identify the most tenacious ones that could consolidate the effect of the straw checkerboards and stand the challenge of time.

  • Officer-in-charge of the Dengkou County Agri-promotional Office explained to HomelandGreen visitors what suitable plants had been identified in Ulan Buh in the 1960s, including Hedysarum scoparium, Haloxylon, Calligonum, Artemisia ordosica, etc.
  • The chosen plant will then be planted inside the grids as a second step to consolidate the effect of the straw checkerboards.
  • Saplings had to be replanted at least three times in the early days because of the frequent sandstorms and strong wind. This means years of effort and millions of investment were gone with the wind every now and then. When moving sand becomes more settled, the survival rate may go up to 60-80 per cent.

And here is why we plant Haloxylon, the miracle tree in Ulan Buh

  • Haloxylon, indigenous in this part of Inner Mongolia, is known for its ability to survive drought. It has amazing vitality, a high survival rate and low planting cost.
  • Irrigation using dripline is only needed for the first three years in general.
  • The video here shows the plant from saplings to maturity and its effect in stabilizing the sand.
  • In other desert control projects of China, different plants will be chosen.

Improved land condition then makes way for higher order plants of more varieties

  • HomelandGreen members saw the results of such experimentation when visits were paid in 2013 to these 50 years old Early Afforestation Sites near Dengkou.
  • The isolated small oasis remain today as monuments to the efforts made by the scientists and people who dedicated their lives to find viable solutions and save the county.
  • Biodiversity has been emphasized from the first day.

Was Ulan Buh tamed and Dengkou County saved?

  • These early efforts were experiments only. In no way they could slow down Ulan Buh from expanding. By the 1970s, Dengkou County was 85% desertified.
  • More efforts needed and things must move fast to save the county from totally disappearing.
  • By the end of the last century, a windbreak and sand-fixing forest belt with a length of 154km and a width of 100-300m bad been built on the eastern edge of the Ulan Buh Desert, all done manually. Work could only be done in the vicinity of the county as no road was yet built into the desert.
  • This remote area has yet to benefit from the open-door policy of the country.

HomelandGreen volunteers got trapped en route to the plantation site during early tree planting trips was no uncommon incidents

What about the people there? 

  • In 2012, a HomelandGreen member took the same route in a trip a few months prior in search of a peasant family on an October day.
  • The wind was strong.
  • Sand blasted against the body, making it difficult to walk.
  • The peasant family shed was found to be deserted; claimed by the moving sand.

What has happened to the desert control efforts? Why was it not working?

  • At the turn of the century, as the original tree belt aged, a 40-km-long gap gradually opened. Dengkou County was again threatened with fierce winds and frequent sandstorms.
  • The already poverty-stricken inhabitants lost their homes as houses were buried by encroaching sand. Also gone were their livelihood as they long failed to grow anything from their farmland.
  • Ecological immigrants became a common sight. Resettlement villages with bare necessities were built in the outskirts of the county to accommodate these peasants.

The future outlook : gloomy or bright?

  • HomelandGreen members felt as gloomy as the local people there.

  • We made more visits to the area in 2014, trying to find out more from local officials and people the chances of turning around. Little did we know that a grand plan to recovery and regeneration was already under preparation and was being implemented by phases.
  • We learned that new measures were employed fast, and scientific organizations were called in to resolve some knotty problems, resulting in infrastructure quickly built and new technologies rolled out at a speed beyond our imagination. It takes time for things to take shape. What was being done took place far from our plantation site, right in the heart of the desert.
  • What could be more magical than the concept of zero pollution green zone of circular economy that may work miracles!
  • We set out to learn more.

Dimension 1 : Infrastructure building

In 2014, we interviewed a Dengkou official about the infrastructure building plan and processActually, we witnessed the construction of the first Ulan Buh desert road between 2013-14

Dimension 2 : The policy towards zero pollution ‒ with the completion of the desert road, productive land use began to appear

Family farms are the first to benefit from the construction of the desert roadEnterprises from outside of Dengkou are also attracted by the special climate condition and policy that favours the growing of organic Chinese yam, a crop and medicinal food commonly used by Chinese

Plantations began to take on new looks as more varieties of crops are tried out by pioneering entrepreneurs

An entrepreneur from Wuhai, a nearby city, talked about his vision, difficulties, hopes and the support of local authorities and the academiaCoordinator of the Dengkou farmers co-opt talked about his changing vision and hopes because of the infrastructure being built

Also changing is the nature of husbandryNew industries are also rising …

Network of roads built in Ulan Buh made it possible for a zero pollution eco-dairy farm to build 23 semi-free-range animal husbandries with own pastures among other agri-agonomical eco-farms in where once the heart of Ulan Buh.

Haloxylon took on a new role …

  • When more cross-disciplinary experts were called in, researchers in agricultural agronomy began to explore the possibility of making use of an untapped potential of Haloxylon.
  • Cistanche deserticola, aka “desert ginseng,” is a Traditional Chinese Medical herbal ingredient with high economic value. By nature, Cistanche deserticola has a symbiotic relationship with Haloxylon long-known to the local people. Scientific research organizations found that the production of Cistanche deserticola can be greatly enhanced by grafting it to the root of Haloxylon.
  • The potential economic benefit began to attract more entrepreneurs from nearby cities as the start-off cost looks affordable. By providing free seeds to farmers for and training them in their planting base, they can do good business with the farmers who own the land. It also provides jobs for the farmers who almost had no means to make a living.
  • The agricultural bureau of the county also stepped in to engage in the relevant research and give assistance to the needed training.

10-plus enterprises got engaged in this industry and helped improvement of the economy of the Dengkou County within 20 years

  • NPO-GreenLife’s partner in Dengkou is one of those enterprises.
  • The video is a glimpse of the place these pioneers work, live, the plants they grow and their harvest.
  • Temperature during working days in the desert is at least 42oC.
  • 10 hour is the minimum working time each day.

The landscape of Ulan Buh began to take on different colours

Dimension 3 : A visionary master plan to sustain the momentum of recovery

  • At our last 2014 visit to Dengkou, we passed by a site with a lot of big posters with complicated illustrative diagrams under different unfamiliar industry names. Our enquiry was met with an answer of which we did not have a clue.
  • It seems that the government is in the process of enacting policies to attract more courageous, responsible system-thinking entrepreneurs with new holistic mindsets.
  • They are expected to do business to assist in the evolutions of sub-systems that will create positive influences on ecology, community and culture-building in the area.
  • This has to be done in coherence with the National Sustainable Development Goals to nudge capital markets towards a longer-term perspective that may continuously enhance the health of the planet.

The result . . . 

  • For some reasons, HomelandGreen made our tree planting trips to Duolun, another plantation site of our partner, between 2015-2018, and came back to Dengkou in April and August 2019.
  • This was what we saw right after riding on the Ulan Buh Desert road for 10 min where those big posters were 4 years ago.
  • We began to understand what circular economy is.
  • The Ulan Buh desert has been turned into a high yield zero pollution eco-agricultural zone.

We planned to visit the re-settlement villages where the displaced peasants were housed.

With improved economy and under the National Poverty Alleviation Program, the re-settlement village takes on a completely new look

Zero Pollution : Bringing in and Reaching Out – Green tourism and government support e-commerce coupled with commercial e‑platforms

Green tourismGovernment support e-commerce
coupled with commercial e‑platforms

Viewing from a lookout of the Inner Mongolia Sheng Mu High-tech Farming Ltd, a zero pollution eco-dairy farm, in 2019

Our message

  1. Ulan Buh is the eighth biggest desert in China and one of the major sources of sandstorms affecting Northeastern Asia or even the South-east until very recently.
  2. The restoration of Ulan Buh began some 43 years ago as part of the Three-North ShelterBelt Program and HomelandGreen began to get involved with voluntary afforestation some eight years ago and has the privilege to witness and record the fastest progress of land restoration ever imagined within six years.
  3. Beginning with the enactment of Ecological Civilization Construction as national policy in 2012, HomelandGreen witnesses how this once remote and poverty-stricken sand land is transformed into a zero-pollution eco-agricultural green zone practicing circular economy.
  4. This could never be achieved without the concerted efforts of cross-disciplined government officials, small businesses and adventurous entrepreneurs, NGOs and voluntary agencies, and of course, the local people.
  5. The result is not only an ecological recovery but the improvement in livelihood of the habitants. By sharing this story, HomelandGreen wants to bring a positive message to the international community that with sufficient political willpower and knowledge, large scale ecological recovery that benefits both people and the planet is feasible.

Thank you!

Image gallery

Videos

Please refer to the videos embedded in the above presentation.

Further information


Partnerships

Clients / Target group

We wish to 

Civic voluntary groups, schools and universities, NGOs, corporations

  • Raise awareness of development in combating desertification efforts in China;
  • combating desertification project is a continuous effort which requires massive manpower;
  • arouse interest in volunteering.

Businesses networking

  • Beautiful crops can be grown in the reclaimed area;
  • there are business opportunity that may benefits the local farmers and help finance the combating desertification project

Established collaborations and partnerships

Regeneration International

NPO-GreenLife Sino-Japanese (Tree planting projects to combat desertification in China)

Soil FoodWeb Institute (Australia)

Eva's Farm, Hong Kong

Hong Miu Farm, Hong Kong

Desired collaborations and partnerships

Dr. John Liu's Ecosystem Restoration Camp

REAL Organic Project, USA

Tamera Community in Portugal

Via Organica in Mexico

Real Organic Project of USA

Time for discussion (Video Chat)

During the indicated periods, one of the team members is available for a chat.


Stand NoTime zone+/- UTC

Date

Start local time (hh:mm)

Duration (hh:mm)Attendant

Video chat link

035HKT+8

 

15:0001:00Josephine Chenhttps://meet.lax.init7.net/4p1000stand035
035HKT+8

 

19:0001:00Josephine Chenhttps://meet.lax.init7.net/4p1000stand035
035HKT+8

 

15:0001:00Josephine Chenhttps://meet.lax.init7.net/4p1000stand035
035HKT+8

 

15:0001:00Josephine Chenhttps://meet.lax.init7.net/4p1000stand035
035HKT+8

 

19:0001:00Josephine Chenhttps://meet.lax.init7.net/4p1000stand035
035HKT+8

 

19:0001:00Josephine Chenhttps://meet.lax.init7.net/4p1000stand035

Click here to view the corresponding time in your zone.

Events


Stand NoTime zone+/-UTC

Date

Start local time (hh:mm)

Duration (hh:mm)Description

Video link

035HKT+8

 

21:0001:00Online Presentation with Q&A (English)https://us02web.zoom.us/j/84111671860?pwd=LzBWTmxCRkhUYk4ybis4Yi9SOFhtUT09
035HKT+8



https://meet.lax.init7.net/4p1000stand035
035HKT+8



https://meet.lax.init7.net/4p1000stand035

Click here to view the corresponding time in your zone.


7 Comments

  1. Account of my conversations on May 10

    Josephine Wen Ning Chen told me the story of the greening of the Ulan Buh Desert in China. We had a long conversation about what makes such miracles happen. For Josephine, leadership is critical. It requires a person with a vision and mission. In her opinion, one must connect with people and the environment, identify challenging questions, seek answers, and acquire a comprehensive understanding of the situation, the factors that determine success, and their interactions. Vision, mission, questions and understanding are the basic requirements for successful action. To equip herself, Josephine has scouted, studied and sought out a number of masters. People with an understanding of systems who are passionate about studying and sharing their insights. Her general advice: "Listen to your heart". 

    Compte rendu de mes conversations du 10 mai

    Josephine Wen Ning Chen m'a raconté l'histoire du verdissement du désert d'Ulan Buh en Chine. Nous avons eu une longue conversation sur ce qui fait que de tels miracles se produisent. Pour Josephine, le leadership est essentiel. Il faut une personne qui ait une vision et une mission. Selon elle, il faut établir un lien avec les gens et l'environnement, identifier les questions difficiles, chercher des réponses et acquérir une compréhension globale de la situation, des facteurs qui déterminent le succès et de leurs interactions. Vision, mission, questions et compréhension sont les conditions de base d'une action réussie. Pour s'équiper, Joséphine a repéré, étudié et recherché un certain nombre de maîtres. Des personnes qui comprennent les systèmes et qui sont passionnées par l'étude et le partage de leurs connaissances. Son conseil général : "Écoutez votre cœur".  

    Relato de mis conversaciones del 10 de mayo

    Josephine Wen Ning Chen me contó la historia del reverdecimiento del desierto de Ulan Buh en China. Tuvimos una larga conversación sobre lo que hace que se produzcan estos milagros. Para Josephine, el liderazgo es fundamental. Requiere una persona con una visión y una misión. En su opinión, hay que conectar con la gente y el entorno, identificar las preguntas desafiantes, buscar respuestas y adquirir una comprensión global de la situación, los factores que determinan el éxito y sus interacciones. La visión, la misión, las preguntas y la comprensión son los requisitos básicos para actuar con éxito. Para equiparse, Josephine ha explorado, estudiado y buscado a varios maestros. Personas que comprenden los sistemas y que se apasionan por estudiar y compartir sus conocimientos. Su consejo general: "Escucha a tu corazón". 

  2. Thank you for sharing with everyone the work you are doing with greening of the Ulan Buh Desert I would like to invite you to visit our Stand 19 - Agripower Australia, to learn about the benefits that silicon fertiliser has for conservation agriculture, soil and plant health, and carbon sequestration. Please leave a message for us if you would like to meet and talk more! www.agripower.com.au

  3. Very impressive stories of ecosystem restoration where people have a better living. Thank you for your hard work in gathering all the information and photos. Would be really nice to see such kind of success stories all over the world.

  4. Anonymous

    沙漠變綠洲不是夢!
    感謝前輩的堅持努力!
    感恩有緣望見真實展現眼前的綠油油的沙漠田園!
    來自沙漠的田地收穫,風味超乎想象的好!讓人回味無窮!

    感謝豐富的資料分享!!!


  5. Anonymous

    Such a miracle to see desert land covered in Green! This shows a huge potential regarding world degraded land.

  6. Anonymous

    Greening the Ulah Buh Desert shares in great details an impressive miracle story about restoration of degraded land. We need much more of such successes in the fight against global environmental challenges.

  7. Dear Josephine, thanks for the inspiring conversation. I wish you all the best for your restoration efforts in the Ulan Buh Dessert!