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1. Overview of land desertification issues and activities in the people's republic of China

A. The extent of land desertification
B. China's initial achievements in combating desertification
C. Mechanisms for combating desertification

1.1 China is a developing country with a large population and scarce arable land, which feeds 22 percent of the world's population on seven percent of the world's tillable land. China is one of the countries most severely impacted by desertification which encompasses over 30 percent of the total land territory (approximately 3 327 million km2) and adversely affects 400 million people. Given the scale of the problem and insufficient national financing, combating desertification remains an arduous task. Even with the government's long-standing commitment and numerous successful model projects, land desertification in China is worsening.

A. The extent of land desertification

1.2 Land desertification occurs mainly in the arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas in the western part of northeast China, the north part of northern China and most parts of northwest China. Desertification caused by wind erosion totals 1 533 million km2 and is distributed in barren and dry grasslands east of the Helan Mountains and Wushiaoling Ridges. It is most serious in the transitional and marginal agriculture and animal husbandry zones of 11 provinces and autonomous regions: Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Gansu, Qinghai, Ningxia, Shaanxi, Shanxi, Liaoning, Jilin, Heilongjiang and Hebei. Land desertification caused by water erosion totals 1 794 million km2 and is concentrated on the Loess Plateau (which is the most severely eroded area in China and even the world) and middle and upper reaches of the Yangtze River. Physical, chemical and biological processes of soil degradation and related economic activities are responsible for desertification near oases or other sandy areas with poor drainage. This is most pronounced in arid regions of the northwest and areas surrounding irrigated oases in Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia. Climate change, human activities and other factors are accelerating the desertification process along this vast 5 000 km-long arid stretch in northern China. The annual of expansion of land desertification increased from 1 600 km2 in the 1970s to 2 100 km2 during the 1980s.

1.3 Ecological degradation and restricted economic development in the affected areas are severe. In the wield-impacted sandy area of northern China the annual number of days of wind greater than force eight is 30 to 100, with sandstorms occurring in some areas. On the Loess Plateau the average erosion model records between 5 000 to 8 000 t/km2/yr with 20 000 t/km2/yr as maximum. The annual quantity of silt flowing into the Yellow River now totals 1.6 billion tons (t) which raises the river bed in the lower reaches by ten centimetres (cm) each year. Desertification threatens two million hectare (ha) of farmland and 4.93 million ha of pasture land. Estimated direct economic losses from low and unstable productivity in agriculture, forestry and animal husbandry total 4.5 billion RMB yuan. China's most underdeveloped counties are located in decertified areas.

1.4 The major causes of land desertification in China are climate change and human economic activities. Climate variation and desertification are contributing factors to the phenomena of global climate change. Since the 1970s China's semi-arid and dry sub-humid zones simultaneously experienced increases in temperature and decreases in precipitation. Given current industrial energy usage, China is projected to loose 959 000 km2 in the humid areas and gain 843 000 km2 in arid and semi-arid areas by 2030. Sandstorms demonstrate the harmful and destructive impact of climate change. In May 1993 a sandstorm attacked over ten counties in four provinces including Xinjiang and Gansu. Soil loss due to wind erosion was ten to 15 cm, and sand loss, 20 to 150 cm for a total economic damage of 560 million RMB yuan.

1.5 Human activities are a direct cause of land desertification in modern times. Rapid population increases have lead to over utilization of land resources. These include intensification of agriculture and animal husbandry, agricultural reclamation on pasture land, deforestation, overgrazing, destruction of vegetation, misuse of water resources and the lack of environmental protection and scientific management in traffic, mining, energy development, tourism and city building. In the transitional and marginal zones of agriculture and animal husbandry reclamation of sandy land accounts for 25.4 percent of modern decertified areas; overgrazing, 28.3 percent; fuelwood harvesting, 31.1 percent; and other activities. 15 percent.

B. China's initial achievements in combating desertification

1.6 The Chinese government and the Chinese people are pioneers in combating desertification. During previous decades of concentrated work, innovative sand control techniques were developed and significant research results accumulated. Examples include fixation techniques for mobile sand dunes along the Baotou-Lanzhou Railway, aero-seeding over shifting sand dunes, narrow strip planting, straw checkerboard networks, windbreaks and shelterbelts of grass, shrubs and trees for farmland protection and agroforestry ecosystems. Integrated management plans for erosion control that include hills, watersheds, ['vests and roads have been developed. The Three-North Afforestation Bureau won UNEP's 1987 Global Environment Protection Award.

1.7 By 1988 plantations established mainly for desertification control covered ten million ha. Forest coverage in northern China rose to 12 percent from seven percent in the 1970s, with ten percent of the decertified land under control. The sheltering effect of these plantations helped open up 1.3 million ha of new farmland; 11 million ha of desert-affected farmland and nine million ha of desertified or degraded grazing land were protected; grain production increased ten to 20 percent and grass fodder production increased 20 percent. During this period degraded forests and grasslands were closed to harvesting or grazing to enable natural rehabilitation to occur. Over eight million ha of fuelwood plantations were established to meet the daily needs of five million local households; wind mills and solar energy were also used as fuel supplements. The result was rapid development of the economy and improved environmental conditions. Erosion was reduced over a 570 000 km2 area. Within four years of initiating the National Programme for Combating Desertification, 2 445 million ha had been controlled, including 401 000 ha covered with artificial plantations, 271 000 ha afforested by aero-seeding and 1 47 million ha protected for natural rehabilitation. One hundred thousand ha of seriously decertified land have been converted into farmland.

C. Mechanisms for combating desertification

1.8 Legislation and institutions: Desertification issues are covered under national resource management and conservation laws through the government's promulgation of related legislative acts; examples include the Forest Law Water Law Grassland Law Land Management Law Environment Protection Law and the Family Planning Decree. In 1991 the government formulated policies on Desertification control and rational use of sandy deserts to facilitate enforcement of these laws. The Ministry of Forestry auctioned use rights to sandy wasteland and barren hills for farmers to rehabilitate for private gain.

1.8.1 Combating Desertification is an essential element of the Chinese Government's national economic and social development master plan. The National Desertification Combating Coordinating Group includes representatives from the National Economic Commission Ministry of Forestry Ministry of Water Resources Ministry of Agriculture Chinese Academy of Sciences State Planning Commission Ministry of Finance Ministry of Energy Ministry of Railways and the Poverty Alleviation Office of the State Council. The National Desertification Control Office is located in the Ministry of Forestry in order to coordinate regular programmes and activities; coordination points have been created at different levels of local government. The China National Monitoring Centre for Desertification formed within the same ministry provides information on the changing dynamics of desertification and the results of combating measures.

1.8.2 The Chinese government recognizes that scientific and technological skills to combat Desertification are built over generations and for this purpose has established departments of soil and water conservation and desert control in universities colleges and other national academies. Mid-level professional schools have been set up and educational networks improved; enhanced research institutes and experimental stations serve as focal points for case studies pilot projects and technical extension services.

1.9 Integrated Planning and Management Approaches: Desertified lands in China are vast and varied. At the planning level China integrates the policy. technical and scientific sectors responsible for land resources and Desertification issues giving due consideration to local conditions. An integrated management approach for decertified land water farmland forests and roads promotes the balanced development of agriculture. forestry animal husbandry and water resources. In arid areas affected by wind erosion green shelterbelts are established water resource management improved and activities to protect vegetation and expand oases encouraged. To address wind erosion issues in the semi-arid transitional and marginal ['arming and grazing areas agriculture forestry and animal husbandry are developed in proportion to the carrying capacity of the resource base using techniques such as intensive ['arming tillage systems for dry seasons shelterbelt and fuel forests fodder plantations and artificial grazing land. In sub-humid areas road planning is incorporated so that industry may contribute to overall development. Integrated small-scale watershed management is applied in areas subject to water erosion. Biological approaches which take advantage of legume. shrub and medicine plants with high economical value are integrated with engineering solutions suitable to the local needs.

1.9.1 Large-scale regional protective forest which are promoted as key national projects to combat Desertification offer additional opportunities for integrated planning and management. These include the Three Northern protective forest system covering forests along the middle and upper reaches of Yangtze River protective forest systems along seacoasts and agroforest systems in plains' areas. The Three Northern Programme crosses 13 provinces and 551 counties in northeast north and northwest China and covers 4 069 million km2 or 42.4 percent of China's land.

1.10 China's National Action Programme under the Convention to Combat Desertification: China has a strong commitment to implementing the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. A secretariat (China National Bureau to Combat Desertification 18 HePingLi Dongjie Street Beijing 100714; P.R. China Fax: +86 10 6423 4699) and group of senior advisers have been established. The advisory body is composed of 16 academicians and authoritative experts from different disciplines and sectors recommended by the ministries concerned.

1.10.2 A Ten Year National Plan for Combating Desertification (1990-2000) and a National Plan for Water and Soil Conservation (1991-2000) have been prepared based on the Ten Year China National Plan for Economic and Social Development. The Desertification Plan has the following targets:

a. To reclaim 6 66 million ha of decertified land through

- tree/shrub planting and grass growing
- enclosing land for natural revegetation
- aero-seeding of tree and grass seeds
- improving low-yield farmland and pasture
- cultivating cash crops
- maximizing utilization of run-off water

b. To implement 20 greening projects in 20 key counties under nine different Desertification conditions. Each project will demonstrate an integrated approach described above.

c. To increase the percentage of converted decertified land from the present 10 percent to 32 percent by the year 2000.

d. To annually control the negative impact of water erosion on 40 000 km2 of land.

e. To decrease the farmland areas subject to shifting sand dunes by 25 percent by the year 2000.

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