Restoring ecology on northern edge of Taklimakan Desert
URUMQI -- Aimati Wusman, a cotton farmer in Aksu Prefecture, northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, used to struggle with the hardships brought by wind and sand. However, things have changed dramatically since a project was launched in 2021 to restore ecology and harness desertification.
"The Eichman area near our village was all Gobi Desert. When sandstorms came, nothing could be seen on the road." The sandstorms would be so strong in March and April that the plastic film covering the ground and the seeds farmers had just planted could be blown away, and dusty wind could wither cotton flowers in July and August, when they begin to bloom, Wusman said.
But now, seeing that the desert has been greened with poplar trees, jujube trees and saxauls, he said he feels assured that they will have a better yield this year.
Sitting on the northern edge of the Taklimakan Desert, the Eichman area faces the serious challenges of land desertification and wetland degradation. Its fragile ecological environment makes it the largest source of sandstorms in Aksu.
To help Aksu residents with the problems brought by the sand, the government released a restoration plan after a year of surveys, design work and expert consultation, and it was officially put into action in March 2021. Per the plan, the transformation of a total area of 1.06 million mu (about 70,667 hectares) in the Gobi Desert will be completed within 5 years, with 850,000 mu of that total located in Awati County.
Led by cadres of Awati County, approximately 6,000 people have participated in the afforestation work, said Jiang Lili, an official of the county's forestry and grassland bureau.
The project has adopted multiple transformation methods for different zones, combining afforestation, grass planting, wetland restoration and sand-fixation engineering work. Suitable tree and grass species have been selected, and recycled water from urban areas and excess water from farmlands have been channeled to the affected region.
Since March 2021, 240,000 mu of the Gobi Desert in Awati County has been covered in vegetation, with 80,000 mu of that figure greened through afforestation.
In the project's core zone, plants -- mostly saxauls -- line the low sand dunes threaded with narrow black pipes. Water drips directly from the pipes into the earth to make maximum use of the limited water supply.
"These saxauls were very short two years ago and now they are as tall as me," Yusupjan Alim said, gesturing to the plants. He is responsible for maintaining the plants and the pipes: He checks if the plants are in good condition, repairs broken pipes, and repositions pipes that have blown away from the roots.
"At first, I wasn't sure if the plants could be kept alive on this arid land. But we made it, and I feel fulfilled to see this area turning green under my care," he said.
"Our lives are much better now. In the future, we will take the initiative to protect the plants and make our own contributions to the village," Wusman said.
Aksu is also known for its achievement in transforming the Kekeya desert area into an oasis of 77,000 hectares between 1986 and 2015. Carrying forward the spirit of Kekeya, Aksu is working to expand its green area to conserve and improve its mountain, water, forest, farmland, grassland and desert ecosystems through a holistic and systematic approach.