Echoing Steppe

Echoing Steppe website     www.cyngo.net    

WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THE

DESERTIFICATION IN DUOLUN

COUNTY, INNER MONGOLIA?

 By Chen Jiqun                         Original Chinese    

I. Historical Background of Duolun County

Duolun is situated in the southern part of Xilin

Gol League, 180 kilometers north of Beijing. It has

an agricultural population of 100,000 and an annual

average rainfall of 400 millimeters. With an area of

3700 square kilometers, less than 2% of the total

area of the Xilin Gol League, Duolun has over half

of the League's surface water resources with 47 rivers

and more than 60 lakes, which are the major

headstream of the Luanhe River and the Miyun Reservoir

in Tianjin and Beijing.

Duolun County previously was an important

political district with the best grassland in the

League. About 200 years ago during the Qing Dynasty

(1644-1911), the grassland was reclaimed for

growing crops. The nomads gradually left the

grassland, and the forest in the south of the county

gradually disappeared, causing the sandy land in the

north to move southward. After the founding of the

People's Republic of China, the county was assessed

as a national key county of poverty alleviation.

nature had caused pain and loss to the herdsmen,

they still loved her, for all they had come from

nature. In the long term search of a way to live in

harmony with nature despite all of those conflicts,

the herdsmen gained much knowledge that could

not be found from books. This knowledge has been

passed down from generation to generation till today.

Why does the pasture decline day by day in

modern times? The herdsmen can not find the

answer. The quality of the grass is going from bad

to worse, while the types of forage grass are becoming

fewer and fewer. The water level lowers in the

river. Many lakes have disappeared. They see all

this happening, but have no way to stop it.

In recent years, two banners in Wuzhumuqin

have caught a fever of getting prosperous by

Duolun County previously was an important

political district with the best grassland in the

League. About 200 years ago during the Qing Dynasty

(1644-1911), the grassland was reclaimed for

growing crops. The nomads gradually left the

grassland, and the forest in the south of the county

gradually disappeared, causing the sandy land in the

north to move southward. After the founding of the

People's Republic of China, the county was assessed

as a national key county of poverty alleviation.

industrialization. All kinds of investors, such as

miners, manufacturers, and cow raisers, seem to turn

up in my homeland overnight. I don't know what the

industrial exploitation will bring to us. Before industry

enhances our financial income, we have already

seen the damage it causes to our pasture. What will

the dying pasture become under the pressure of the

so-called industrial revolution? No one knows.

In search of answers, I came to attend this

seminar, and I learned from it what is happening to

our grassland is desertification. Our primary concern

is the condition of the pasture. Our economic

gains are decided by the pasture's quality. To develop

a sustainable economy, we must protect the

pasture and water. We must protect the environment.

By Chen Jiqun

FOCAL ISSUE

(Translated by Chen Yinan)

3 WWW.fon.org.cn

FOCAL ISSUE

II. Deterioration of the Environment and its Causes

Among all counties in Xilin Gol League,

Duolun has the best natural conditions, but suffers

the most from desertification and sandstorms.

In the mid 1990s, the ecological environment

of Duolun drastically deteriorated. 70% of its land

turned into desert, forming large areas of moving

dunes and becoming one of the sources of sandstorms

that threatened Beijing and Tianjin. To imagine

how much topsoil is brought from Duolun to

Tianjin and Beijing each year by sandstorms, visualize

1.7 million trucks, each with a capacity of ten

tons, traveling to the two cities, loading and unloading

sand throughout the year.

What has caused such serious environmental

deterioration on the best grassland of Xilin Gol? A

tentative conclusion can be drawn from the experience

of Zhao Chengxiang, a farmer who used to live

in the town of Heishan.

Case study: (References: The Beijing News,

September 28, 2005)

A shabby house with only half of its tile roof

remaining stands where Zhao's home once was.

Behind the house, weeds grow along the sand-dune

that almost reaches the roof. Formerly, the house

sheltered three generations of Zhao's family, who

primarily depended on farming for a living. Twenty

years ago, Zhao contracted to be responsible for 36

mu, or 2.4 hectares, of land.

"At the end of the 1980s, the government called

on us to make money through raising livestock," said

the 72-year-old Zhao. He said that his family had

about a dozen sheep at first, and then the number

gradually increased until it reached 170. However,

the small patch of land Zhao owned could hardly

feed all the sheep, which consumed not only all the

grass but even the grass roots. A villager explained

that was why the surface of the earth was destroyed

and sands were exposed. When strong winds blew,

sandstorms would occur.

"There had been winds before, but not as

sandy as in the following years," said Zhao. He

said that since fodder was in short supply, he had

no choice but to sell his sheep in exchange for

about a dozen cattle. However, the cattle quickly

increased to 70, needing as much grass as 350

sheep, or as much as nearly 7,000 mu (467

hectares) of grassland could provide. With only

ited vegetation on his lot and the nearby area,

which led to the deterioration of the ecology.

F R I E N D S O F NAT U R E 4

2.4 hectares of land, Zhao over-exploited the lim-

What was the main reason for serious desertification

of this purely agricultural county? After various

investigations including talking with households

who left their hometown because of the worsening

environment, we found that the environmental problems

in the 1990s were caused by the policy of the

III. Combating Desertification in Duolun and its Implications

The ten-year project to combat desertification

in Duolun was started in June 2000. According to

data provided by the Duolun government, the country

invested a total of 137 million yuan (about 17

million US dollars) in the county from 2000 to 2005.

Sand dunes diminish after combating desertifi-

"reforesting on cultivated land" and about 1.6 million

US dollars for subsidies for banning grazing.

Most of the investment was used to plant trees and

grow grass, about 1,375 US dollars for each

household. The financing will be provided gratis

until 2008. At present, the proportion of vegetation

covering the treated areas has risen from less than

30% in 2000 to 70%.

Reflecting on the present combat against the

desertification in Duolun, we must ask the following

questions:

1. How will Duolun manage to continue the

effort without free financing after 2008?

2. Duolun accounts for 1.9% of the total area

of Xilin Gol but uses over 50% of the League's water

resources. Is the analysis of the causes for its

desertification and its experience of banning grazing

applicable to the northern dry grassland?

3. Could such problems have been avoided if

the local governments had taken the environment

into consideration when planning economic

development?

We welcome readers to view the map of Duolun

at http://www.cy.ngo.cn/map_xilin_duolun_en.GIF

Chen Jiqun is Director of the Echoing Steppe

website and project manager of the FON , s United

Project to Protect Grassland. Of the total, about 11 million US dollars was spent

cation in Duolun

on controlling the source of sand storms, about 4.4

million US dollars for subsidies for the project of

FOCAL ISSUE

local government that encouraged farmers to raise

more livestock for income. As local statistics show,

livestock raised in the county in 1999 totaled 600,

000, about 30 times that of 1950. Such a leap led to

serious desertification. In conclusion, desertification

in Duolun was a result of wrong policy decisions.

(Translated by Wang Xiuqiong)