Loess Plateau benefits from green drive

( Xinhua )

Updated: 2012-11-16

TAIYUAN - Niu Hentai remembers the Loess Plateau as dismal, dusty and dry seven years ago.

"Here there were barren hills, but see how it is flourishing now!" Niu said of the hills now dotted with plants and the land to the west checkered with brown poplars and lush forest.

Born in Dacaoping village, Shanxi province, Niu left his hometown to run a transportation business in Inner Mongolia autonomous region because the land was good for nothing but grazing in his hometown, which is located at an altitude of 2,100 meters and was once home to a record-high 10,000 sheep.

But overgrazing and deforestation eventually stripped away vegetation in the area, eroding the soil and allowing the desert to encroach upon the Loess Highlands, where Dacaoping Village is located.

"Overnight, people could not open their doors because of the sand outside," said Niu, recalling the fierce sandstorms.

Niu chose to return home to plant trees in 2005, hoping to help restore the damaged environment that was jeopardizing grazing and to take advantage of a slew of preferential measures issued by the local government.

In 2003, Shuozhou, a coal-rich city in which Dacaoping village is located, faced environmental degradation head on, as the municipal government started encouraging villagers like Niu to contract land free of charge for five years and plant trees on barren hills.

Niu, 52, signed a contract for 800 hectares, but drought prevailed early on and none of his plants survived.

"Money is not a problem for me," said Niu, who has spent over 2 million yuan ($317,000), which mostly came from his former transportation business, in seven years of planting.

Niu blasted rock from hillsides to raise retaining walls, brought in soil and planted shrubs to bind the soil together.

"I plant the poplar trees that can survive in the arid, loose soil," Niu said. "All I hope is that the devastated look will vanish for my offspring."

Niu's efforts came amid the local government's move to green its once-dusty plateau -- and both his efforts and that of the local government have paid off.

"We want the city to be green, to be a good place to live," said Wang Maoshe, secretary of the Shuozhou committee of the Communist Party of China.

Since 2000, an estimated 1 billion yuan has been put toward planting 22,000 hectares of forest.

Wang said about one-third of the investment was allocated by the provincial or city governments, one-third by the district government and one-third by enterprises, especially coal mine companies.

Shuozhou's forest coverage has climbed to 35 percent in 2012 from 12.4 percent in 2000, with 90 percent of the land that suffered from desertification being brought under control.

The city's ambitious plan includes expanding the green carpet by 2 percent annually.

Niu has planted over 1.2 million trees to date.

"I find relaxation just by looking at the lush forest," Niu said, adding that his fledgling forest will be fully grown in two or three years.