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Ecological Shelter Built for Arid Loess Plateau

Last year Zhang Zhanrong, a farmer who had grown food products all his life at Wuqi county, northwest China's Shaanxi province, found a new way to make money: planting grass and trees.

Last year Zhang Zhanrong, a farmer who had grown food products all his life at Wuqi county, northwest China's Shaanxi Province, found a new way to make money: planting grass and trees.

He planted forage grass and fruit trees in his field, which earned him 20,000 yuan (US$2,400) last year, more than double the average level of the region.

Wuqi county is remembered by Chinese people as the ending point of the well known Long March (1935-1936) during which the Communist Party of China (CPC) successfully moved its military force for the revolution. Now, the place is undergoing a new revolution in the ecological field.

There are scores of counties like Wuqi scattered across the Loess Plateau, an area in the northwest 640,000 square kilometers in size, of which 70 percent has been hit by the world's most serious soil erosion. It was once described as "unsuitable for human beings to live" by scientists from other countries.

To change the situation, the Chinese government has announced a fifty-year plan with a huge budget to improve the environment and upgrade people's living conditions here.

Li Guoying, director of the Yellow River Water Resources Committee (YRWRC), said that by 2050 the project will increase the area of forest by 22.078 million hectares to retain soil, 3 million hectares of woods will have been planted for economic use, and there will be 10 million hectares of grazing pasture.

The whole project will need a total budget of 200 billion yuan (US$24 billion) and will be the most expensive and time-consuming ecological program in the country, according to sources from the YRWRC.

The Loess Plateau is regarded as the cradle of Chinese people and Chinese history. It used to be the capital of several ancient dynasties and a center of culture, economy and politics for hundreds of years.

Geographical statistics show that the plateau is also rich in mineral mines and energy resources, an important source of strategic supplies for the future.

Miao Guangzhong, senior engineer of soil conservation, said that according to archaeological research the plateau was covered with flourishing forest thousands of years ago, and it was human deforestation and geologic changes that resulted in environmental deterioration.

Due to droughts and barren soil, people have worked diligently in the fields all year long for generations but many of them can still hardly feed themselves.

Government-aided programs to improve the environment had already begun in early 1980s, but these achievement are still not satisfactory because of a lack of proper management and long-term vision.

Experts suggest that in the campaign to improve the environment here, the government needs to act wisely, effectively and the operation should be based on s market mechanism.

Sources show that the huge budget will come from the government, enterprises and individual persons as well. The government will encourage companies and individuals to take an active role in the green campaign.

YRWRC officials said that so far hundreds of private enterprises and some individuals have invested for business opportunity in the ecological programs.

(People's Daily October 26, 2001)

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