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Man's Crusade to Fight Desertification
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A senior citizen is playing a leading role in fighting the desertification of land in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.


Jiang Jiyu spent several years studying how Jerusalem artichokes could help boost the amount of vegetation in sandy areas before working with local governments.


His efforts are made even more remarkable by the fact his work is self-funded.


But despite the financial headaches, the 65-year-old has vowed to continue his attempts to bring deserts under control.


Last week, he signed an agreement to send 10 further tons of the plant to the autonomous region, which will be planted in 20 hectares of land in Alxa League Left Banner, at the westernmost part of the region.


He has so far donated more than 200 tons of tuberous roots of the plant, mostly to areas in the region, and Hebei and Liaoning provinces.


"Although it has caused me countless difficulties and left me with debts, I have never regretted indulging in my study of the plant." Jiang smiled.


Formerly a farmer in the port city of Dalian in Liaoning Province, Jiang was startled to see the destruction caused by desertification in Inner Mongolia while visiting a friend there 10 years ago.


Jiang was unconvinced by his friend's argument that no plant could grow in the desert.


He thought of the Jerusalem artichokes dotted abundantly near the beach in his home city, which grew in harsh conditions.


Jiang began carrying out tests as soon as he got back. He buried tuberous roots from the plant in dried sand on a plastic sheet, and was delighted with the results.


He repeated tests in different conditions before heading back to Inner Mongolia in April 1999 with the results of his study.


The local government granted him about 80 hectares of land to plant his Jerusalem artichokes in.


"We were met with a drought that year, but while the existing flowers already in the area died, our plant survived and formed tuberous roots in the autumn," Jiang recalled.


His accomplishments were covered by the media, which hailed his efforts. He organized students to collect seedlings from the flourishing plants, which were planted in a further 200 hectares.


"I began to consider processing the roots, as its powder is nutritious," Jiang said.


He held talks with an interested businessman from Taiwan before the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak hit the country, and the discussions fizzled out.


His hope for a factory vanished and all the roots that were collected had to be discarded.


Two years earlier, the State Forestry Administration had listed his planting of Jerusalem artichokes as a desertification control item and offered him an interest-free loan of 5 million yuan (US$625,000).


"But I had no real estate as guarantee for the loan, so it couldn't happen," he said.


Despite his setbacks, Jiang has always fought on. "I'll never give up my choice no matter what difficulties occur again as people have recognized my efforts," Jiang said.


Jiang said the existing desert areas in the region, or those at threat of desertification, amount to 60 percent of the total land and was increasing by 670,000 hectares every year.


He attributed the increase to global warming and careless exploitation of the region.


Over the past few years, he has donated plants and seeds to local governments who had no money to pay for them.


(China Daily May 17, 2006)

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