Million-dollar sandman

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Shi Guangyin has faced the full force of China's monster deserts.

At just eight-years-old, Shi and his childhood friend were swept up by a tornado and blown kilometers away from their homes.

Miraculously Shi survived, found by his relieved father the next day, partially buried in sand and 15 km from where the tornado threw him into the air.

A file photo of Shi Guangyin.

Shi's pal was not so lucky. He was never seen again.

Since then Shi, now 68, has vowed to battle the brutal weather and ferocious sandstorms that plague his homeland. And he has become a millionaire in the process.

"I decided that I would fight the desert when I grew up", said Shi.

Born and raised in Yulin on the edges of China's eighth largest desert, the Maowusu Desert in northwest China's Shaanxi province, Shi reveals that his family moved nine times to avoid the storms.

Crossed by the Great Wall, the Maowusu's winds can reach speeds of up to 20 meters per second, creating a blanket of sand that swallows everything in its path.

"Every three to four years, our house would be buried in sand, and we had to move", he said.

Since 1978, Chinese authorities have supported afforestation projects in north China in a bid to stem desert encroachment and soil erosion, including those set-up by individuals.

Shi became the first contractor to plant trees in the barren desert to curb the devastating erosion and stamp out sandstorms. His oasis Shilisha - which means a sand belt over five kilometers long in Chinese - was born.

Shi is now head of a million-dollar company - which includes his sand-control arm - turns out around 1.63 million U.S. dollars per year. He has also raised the annual income of his community.


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