China began a pilot project on Monday to rehabilitate ecosystems and improve the living space for 5 million people in northern parts of Northwest China's Shaanxi Province, the most water-eroded area on the middle reaches of the Yellow River.
With a record 1.05 billion yuan (US$126.5 million) in funds from central and local governments, the project will go towards greening over half the barren hillsides in Yan'an and Yulin by converting all the slope farmland into grasslands or woods in five years.
Chen Zhu, vice-president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, announced the beginning of the project and said he was confident that the project will turn the two cities into a model area showing reasonable use of water, soil and land resources.
A new round of national protection of the environment for China's social and economic sustainable development will be stepped up in the years ahead following the initiation of the project, officials said.
By 2007, a beautiful landscape may take shape in the 80,600-square-kilometres project area including 25 counties and small cities, as forest or grass coverage rates increase by 10 per cent from the current 35 per cent.
One major effective measure to facilitate forestation and ensure vegetation rehabilitation in northern Shaanxi is to prohibit grazing at local hillsides, Chen said.
Instead of allowing overgrazing on the hillsides as in the past, locals must pen their livestock and build more feeding pens for sheep and cows.
Overgrazing has been blamed by experts as a major chronic problem that added to the area's soil erosion and land degradation in the past along with over logging and over reclamation.
The project also promises to increase local farmer's annual per capita income by 500 yuan (US$60) from the present 1,100 yuan (US$132) in five years by building more than 133,300 hectares of high and stable yield lands for grain or cash crops.
Farmers will also be encouraged to plant fruit trees on slope land after giving up farming of such erosion-prone land.
Yan'an and Yulin, two areas suffering from the worst water and soil erosion in the Loess Plateau, the world's most eroded region on the middle reaches of the Yellow River, have made great strides in rehabilitating their ecosystems.
Due to poor forest coverage on semi-arid land, Yulin and Yan'an have long been vulnerable to sandstorms and soil erosion, which have also led to serious poverty problems.
Of the two area's more than 80,000 square kilometers of land, about 80 per cent of the total, suffers from soil erosion with the annual soil washed into the Yellow River downstream reaching 700 million tons.
At the same time forest and grass coverage in the areas reached 35 per cent or higher by 2001, compared with 1.8 per cent some 50 years ago thanks to decades of hard, unremitting water and soil conservation.
China has, since 1980, adopted a series of strategic measures to intensify protection of the ecological environment, including the formulation of a national program for the area, a logging ban at natural forests and converting farmland on slope hillsides into forests and grasslands throughout the country.
(China Daily September 25, 2002)