Part of desert turns into oasis in Northwest China
China Daily

Desertification control workers make straw checkerboard barriers near the border of the Maowusu Desert in Lingwu, Northwest China's Ningxia Hui autonomous region, in June. [PHOTO:XINHUA]

YINCHUAN-On a sand dune not far from a desert national park in Lingwu city of Northwest China's Ningxia Hui autonomous region, people are busy planting hay.

The sown hay is shaped into a checkered field pattern, resembling a Chinese chessboard, and the sand is fixed, allowing fresh vegetation to sprout.

These workers are dubbed "modern-day Yugong" for their daily efforts in controlling sand and transforming the desert into an oasis, achieving a seemingly impossible task through dogged persistence.

Yugong, or "Foolish Old Man", is a legendary figure of ancient China who is said to have removed a mountain in front of his home with his descendants using their bare hands.

Wang Youde, 69, has spearheaded the efforts to transform a major section of the Maowusu Desert in Baijitan national ecological reserve of Lingwu into an oasis.

"For many years, the Maowusu Desert has endangered the farmland. In the past, stepping out of one's home meant entering the desert. One had to brave strong winds to go to work," said Wang, whose work has been lauded nationwide.

He added that it was difficult for local people to maintain even an orchard because of the inclement weather and harsh environmental conditions, with constant winds and blowing sand severely affecting fruit growth.

"After the success of our sand control campaign, we were able to safeguard our homeland as the sand retreated more than 20 kilometers eastward from our mother river, the Yellow River," Wang said.

This 42,000-hectare oasis that Wang and his coworkers created has now become an important protective barrier for the ecological system in northwestern China, thanks to three generations of dedicated sand control efforts.

When Wang started working in the government's forestry and grassland department in 1976, he realized that in order to effectively control the desert, the income of workers at forest farms must be increased so that they could continue desert control efforts with dedication.

He encouraged the workers to develop profitable agriculture endeavors by transforming the desert into farmland and planting vegetables and fruit, which could be sold in the market.

Meanwhile, he allowed the workers to take temporary jobs elsewhere during winter and earn extra money.

Wang helped create "checkered grasslands" across the desert after establishing a stable and experienced team of workers with whom he had worked closely for four decades.

Wang is no longer working on the front lines, but he continues to actively take part in various social activities. He recently initiated a "media forest" project with local journalists to raise environmental awareness and inspire others to join the efforts.

When the desert was transformed into farmland, the workers at the forest farms benefited as well, with many now earning 120,000 yuan ($17,904) annually, according to the staff.

Li Guiqing, 50, and her husband Wu Jingguo have both worked at Baijitan forest farm for over 20 years.

"When we arrived here, we were so poor that we did not have enough money to get married," said Li, adding that now they run an orchard and a dairy farm on what was once a desert.