Farmers take advantage of snow to beat the deserts

Updated: 2008-02-20 15:20

Lanzhou -- The severe snow raging across China this winter has been welcomed in drought-stricken northwest China, where people have been working against the clock to take advantage of the rain and snow to seed grass and plants on the edge of desert land.

"We have mobilized thousands of farmers to sow grass seed and seedlings of desert plants in 30,000 hectares of sandy land," said Zhang Xuemin, deputy head of Minqin County in Gansu Province.

The county official wants to use aircraft to sow seeds, so increasing the amount of land that can be planted upon.

Minqin is slotted between two growing deserts of Tengger and Badain Jaran. The latter is the world's fourth largest desert. China's first spring sandstorm in 2007 was generated from the county.

Precipitation reached 11 mm during the snowstorm in Minqin, compared with 0.5 mm in a normal winter.

"The blizzard is the largest in local meteorological records. This is also the coldest winter in our memory," said Zhang.

He said that the snow and frost have caused US$2.7 million in direct economic losses in local greenhouse farming. However, it has brought a rare chance for ecological rebuilding, as the melting snow is soaking the dry land.

Local farmers have wasted no time in answering the government's call for ecological rebuilding, which, they have been fully aware, is key to guard against the desertification. Many have even given up mending their snow-damaged greenhouses to take part in desert planting.

China has planned 4.7 billion yuan (US$653 million) to salvage the county from becoming the second Lop Nur, which used to be the largest lake in northwestern China before it dried up in 1972 as a result of desertification and environmental degradation.

"The snow came just in time to help us," said Zhang.

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