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China Daily Global / 2020-01 / 15 / Page004

The desert is my lifelong enemy

By Yang Wanli | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-01-15 00:00

I grew up in the desert and I have been fighting it most of my life. The Babusha sand dune in my home, Gulang county in the northwestern province of Gansu, is my lifelong enemy.

Babusha sits on the southern edge of the Tengger Desert and covers about 5,000 hectares. In the 1970s, the sand dune gradually encroached south, threatening the county's social and economic development and people's livelihoods.

Sandstorms, which most people only know from books or movies, hit our village frequently, and people rarely ate fruit or vegetables due to the lack of water (to irrigate crops).

In the 1980s, my father, Guo Chaoming, and five other villagers decided to combat desertification. They shouldered the responsibility voluntarily for the future of our home.

Faced with a sprinkling of surviving saplings, they were determined not to succumb to the desert's advance and become environmental refugees. It was a fight they had to win.

More than 10 years later, the efforts made by my father and the five brave environmentalists began to pay off. The pace of desertification slowed, grain output rose and half of the Babusha sand dune was covered by thriving greenery.

In the decades that followed, people of my generation and even our children joined the efforts to protect Gulang's environment.

In recent decades, we have transformed 14,467 hectares of desert through afforestation programs, and kept 25,000 hectares of land off-limits to allow the trees and grass to regenerate.

The Babusha sand dune is now a forest farm, and thanks to the plants and trees, fewer sandstorms hit the region.

I am proud and pleased to see more young people joining our battle. The younger generation is putting forward new ideas related to scientific and innovative control of desertification, such as employing remote sensing monitoring tools and techniques to observe changes in sandy land and improve forecasts for pests, such as locusts.

On March 30, the central authorities bestowed the title "Model of the Times" on all three generations for our unswerving efforts to combat desertification and accelerate the country's progress in afforestation.

What was even more inspiring was that I gained an unexpected opportunity to talk with President Xi Jinping during his visit to Gulang in August, when he reviewed our efforts to transform the desert into a green oasis.

Many years ago, he coined the phrase "Clear waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets", and through years of practice, I've become strongly aware of the importance of the ecosystem.

Nature offers us its protection, and it also harbors our future. If we don't protect our homes, who will?

Guo Wangang spoke with Yang Wanli.


Guo Wangang, 67-year-old farmer in Gulang county, Gansu province



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