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Dispatch from Makit: Thriving in the desert | Updated: 2021-05-27 14:06
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The view from a wooden town of a jujube plantation at a village in Makit county, Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region during a visit by the "A Date with China" international media tour, on May 20, 2021. [Photo/]

There is a wooden tower, about three stories high, at the entrance of the verdant grove, offering a sweeping view of the flourishing jujube plantation that, bisected by water canals and dotted with walnut trees, reaches as far as the lines of poplars standing sentry on the horizon. The scene, complete with occasional summer breezes and a sparkling blue sky, is bewitchingly evocative of lush river towns, until you step down from the tower and walk onto its powdery ground. Soft like a cushion, it's all sand.

This is actually desert!

Ninety percent of Makit county's land is desert. Located in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, to the east of the famed Kashgar city, the parched county and its 800,000 multiethnic people are besieged by sand, facing encroachment from China's biggest desert, the Taklimakan on its north, south and east. When it gets windy, which is often, sands from the Taklimakan - a desert as big as Poland - turns the sky into a brown broth.

Yet Makit county also has about 37,300 hectares of jujube trees. The scale of its jujube plantation and outputs are unmatched in China. In 2020, it harvested 260,000 tons of jujubes, a record high. The county also produced juicy fruits, like melons, grapes and pomegranates, in abundance.

Makit county's thriving agricultural production is an unlikely success that would be utterly impossible without its arduous anti-desertification efforts. In 2012, the county launched in phrases an ambitious project to plant 66,667 hectares of ecological forests to stall the encroaching desert and fix its shifting sands. To improve the rates of plant survival, dunes were flattened and water pipes with dripping holes were laid out for the seasonal plantations in spring and autumn.

A member of the "A Date with China" international media tour takes a selfie video at a site of ecological forestation in Makit county, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, on May 20, 2021. [Photo provided to]

Adding to the special charm of Makit county's ecological forestation are its plant choices - including white poplar, yellow horn, wild olive, sea buckthorn, rose willow, sacsaoul, prune and apple - that take both natural circumstances and economic prospects into account.

In the nine years since the project's launch, 220 million seedlings have been planted, with a survival rate of over 95 percent, covering an area of about 27,300 hectares, or about two-fifths of its original target.

Its ecological effects are palpable. Annual rainfall doubled from 50 millimeters in 2010 to over 100 millimeters in 2018, while days of sandstorms plummeted from over 150 to less than 50 during the same period.

Equally striking are its economic benefits. The project has brought over 270 jobs to the locals, adding over 40,000 yuan to staff annual income. During a recent visit by journalists with the "A Date with China" international media tour, workers were seen sheathing cistanche - a valuable local herb with yellowish flowers and scale-like leaves that grow in the shadows of sacsaouls - with nothing less than silk stockings, to protect them from the winds. The herb, just one of the many cash crops that are promoted in the project, is expected to bring about 20 million yuan ($3.2 million) in annual revenue.

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