The Seventh Kubuqi International Desert Forum opening on July 27, 2019 in Inner Mongollia, China, received a congratulatory letter from Chinese President Xi Jinping, in which he noted that China has made significant headway in desertificaiton prevention and control under its unwavering commitment to ecological progress, and that the Kubuqi Model of desert control represents proven Chinese experience in environmental management and ecological conservation for the international community to advance the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
What he said in the letter is an exciting encouragement to all of us who are dedicated to desertification control in Kubuqi. Thanks to President Xi’s ecological guidance and close attention to our work, we have so far achieved ongoing progress in desertification control, and won support from the international community. Going forward, with our original mission to combat desertification for mankind firmly kept in mind, we will step up prioritized efforts on ecological protection for green development, and live up to the expectation from President Xi.
As I recall, three decades ago, the Kubuqi Desert was a barren land plagued by endless sandstorms where even birds were reluctant to come, with over 100,000 local residents struggling in poverty against harsh environment. But today we can see life-giving oases dotted throughout sand dunes in Kubuqi where the locals are living a better-off life in a well improved and preserved environment featuring green mountains, clear water and fresh air.
Over the past 30 years, we have suffered hardships and setbacks in the combat against desertification, especially the pressure of public opinion, technical bottlenecks and fund shortage. Fortunately, with the support from both Chinese central government agencies including the Ministry of Science and Technology and the National Forestry and Grassland Administration, and the Inner Mongolian CPC committees and governments at all levels, we have persisted all the way through today and managed to afforest a large part of the Kubuqi Desert and improve the local livelihood with the development of ecological industries, notably creating the Kubuqi Model as a Chinese solution to global desertification control that contributes to the achievement of the sustainable development goals set by the UN 2030 Agenda.
Local development should be based on local environment. And in the case of Kubuqi, we capitalize on resources from the desert for economic growth through the Kubuqi Model, which is mainly driven by business investment in large-scale, industry-based desertifcation control with government policy support, martket-oriented participation of local residents, ongoing technological and instituational innovations, and sharing of the development benefits across communities. That’s how the dream for oases has come true in Kubuqi.
The success of the Kubuqi Model lies in that it has solved the following four long-standing problems facing all desertification fighters worldwide by offering a sustainable afforestation strategy in deserts with both funding and profiting sources available, which has helped to live out President Xi’s ecological vision in Kubuqi and made a huge contribution to the development of mankind.
How do we green the desert？ It’s ongoing innovation that does the trick. First, we’ve innovatively conducted large-scale desertification control using state-of-the-art technologies, enhancing the resilience of ecological systems, and creating a virtuous circle where the ecosystem can resotre itself and with it local biodiversity recovers. Thanks to the sound and forward planning, we’ve made huge successes over the past 30 years.
Second, we’ve tapped into germplasm resources in a creative way – one of the most effective tools for desertification control. Kubuqi has established the largest germplasm resource base in western China and cultivated more than 1,000 plants that are drought-enduring, cold-resistant and saline-tolerant. Some of them have been introduced to deserts in the western region and to Nagqu, Tibet at 4,600 meters above sea level, playing an important role in ecosystem recovery.
Third, we’ve made breakthroughs in planting techniques. Minimally invasive air-pressed planting allows us to plant a tree within seconds, reducing the damage caused to soil, and raising the survival rate with dramatic cost reduction. Windward planting harnesses the power of nature by taking advantage of the interactive forces between the wind, sand, and trees – the wind largely blocked by vegetation in lower part of sand dunes blows the top downward – trimming the height of sand dunes in Kubuqi by one third. Drone planting, along with directional ejectors and seed coating technique independently developed by ELION, makes tree planting possible in deserts and marshland, where access is difficult and manual planting.
Where does the money come from? The sand control practices in Kubuqi are funded by enterprises, civil society, Chinese governments and international sources, integrating eco-restoration for public benefits with industry development, so as to ensure sustainable thriving of local communities.
How do we make profits？Profits stem from ecosystem restoration and business development. We bring in revenues through eco-industry services, ecosystem reclamation, value-added lands, and development of green business.
Local farmers and herdsmen earn a livelihood mostly by renting out their land in desert areas, and have received rents totaling over RMB 1 billion in the past 30 years. In addition, they have been provided with a multitude of jobs and entrepreneurship opportunities in the process of ecological restoration and eco-industry development, lifting themselves out of poverty with an annual per capita income of about RMB 20,000 increased from RMB 400.
Thanks to all these endeavors, Kubuqi has witnessed an enormously improved eco-environment with an increased vegetation coverage of 53%, substantially mitigated sandstorms, rising rainfall, and recovered biodiversity evidenced by the reappearance of once extinct animals and plants. On top of that, the more enabling investment environment in Kubuqi has spawned a desert green economy cluster that has attracted more than 100 companies in China and beyond, generating an economic output of RMB 100 billion with market potential of RMB 1 trillion.
How do we achieve sustainable development？The Kubuqi Model proves that the key to combat desertification lies in all-sided environmental recovery which hinges on industry development, and burgeoning industries can, in turn, promote ecosystem restoration and benefit local communities. Therefore, with “ecosystem”, “economy” and “livelihoods” in mind, we are committed to ensuring a coordinated development of desertification control, ecosystem recovery, industry development and poverty alleviation.
On our planet, as about two billion people across over 30 million square kilometers of desertified land are living under the threat of desertification, we should bear in mind what President Xi said in his letter and continue the fight against desertification by upgrading green technologies and industries. We should promote to the world the technologies and knowhow used in restoring the Kubuqi Desert, contributing more to the building of eco-safety barriers for the development of green Belt and Road, to poverty eradication through sand control, and to the advancement of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.