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Environment Reconstruction Restores Prosperity Along Silk Road Regions

BEIJING, August 29 -- The Gansu Corridor, once the most prosperous part of the well-known Silk Road connecting trade between the east and the west, has declined to become one of the poorest regions in China as the environment there had deteriorated over the past 1000 years.

Gansu Province, where the corridor is located, suffered soil erosion in 85 percent of its total area.

An opportunity for environment reconstruction has been brought about as China has put forward the western development strategy and the latest decision to return farmland to forests or grasslands so as to improve the country's environment as a whole, the western regions in particular.

The return work, the largest environment protection project in China's history, will cost a total of 100 billion yuan (12 billion US dollars) over the next 10 years.

Gansu alone will put in 50 billion yuan for the project to restore the environment in the following 11 years, making 5.3 million hectares of land green by planting trees on barren hills, returning farmland and closing hillsides or sand areas to facilitate afforestation.

According to statistics from the Asian Development Bank, China' s total desert area has reached 260 million hectares, or one quarter of the country's territory. And nearly 90 percent of rural poor people live in areas where heavy soil erosion poses a serious threat. About 90 percent of deserts in China lie in drought regions in the northwest China. Deserts and Gobi, stony deserts in Gansu account for 35 percent of the provincial total area.

Founded in 1959, the Gansu Desert Institute has earned itself worldwide fame by developing practical, high-efficiency and low- consumption technologies for treating deserts.

The institute, on behalf of the Chinese Government, has offered four sessions of "International Training Courses for Chinese Desert Management Technologies" to developing countries since 1993.

So far, the province has treated an accumulative soil erosion area of 44,000 square meters,including 16 million hectares of natural grassland, 38,000 hectares of afforestation and 20,000 hectares of human-planted grassland.

Droughts are the main cause of environment deterioration and slow agricultural production in Gansu. Years of water conservation efforts have made the province's irrigated farming prosperous.

Gansu now has 294 large, medium and small-sized reservoirs, with a total water-storage capacity of 2.1 billion cubic meters. It has also built 7640 power-driven irrigation projects by elevating water levels, raising the province's total effective irrigation area up to 1.2 million hectares.

In the middle mountain areas suffering heavy droughts, rain collecting facilities have been built to store the rare and precious rainfall there, providing drinking water for the 1.13 million local people and 1.2 million heads of livestock.

Thousands of irrigation systems in Gansu plays a decisive role in agricultural production and have turned the middle regions of the province into a prosperous paradise of rich forests and high grain yields.

The Gansu Corridor itself has become one of the top eight grain production bases in China, with its annual grain output hitting 1. 7 billion kilograms.

The Gansu Yasheng Group signed a contract in August 1997 with an Israeli company to build a 6,700-hectare demonstration plot of Israel's world famous water-efficiency farming system along the Gansu Corridor region. It is the ever largest Sino-foreign cooperation program in agriculture in the country.

The province's overall ecological environment has been improved in recent years as comprehensive measures have been taken to tackle the problem, including construction of water conservation projects, afforestation on waste hills, desert management and management of small river valleys, according to a provincial agriculture official.

Based on the central government's strategy of turning farmland into forests or grasslands, the province plans to transform 2 million hectares of farmland by 2010, making its forest coverage rate increase to 13.6 percent by that year and its combined forest and grass coverage rate surge to 42 percent in 2015.

-- source: Xinhua News Agency

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