Forest and grassland cover the once barren mountains in Youyu county, Shanxi province. [Photo provided to China Daily]
Youyu county – on the edge of the Mu Us Desert, at the northwestern tip of North China's Shanxi province – is continuing to make significant progress in turning itself into an oasis that resists the erosion of its sandy terrain.
In the early days of the founding of the People's Republic of China, 76 percent of the county was sandy and the forest coverage rate was less than 0.3 percent.
But in the spring of 1950, the residents of Youyu county began their unremitting fight against desertification, to restore the region's vegetation.
The county greened part of the land ravaged by wind and sand in the 1950s and focused on controlling desertified land and sandstorms in the 1960s. It constructed a shelter forest system in the 1970s, improved the quality of afforestation in the 1980s and established green barriers in the 1990s. In the 21st century, it has accelerated the development of forestry.
Sheep graze on a pasture in the county of Youyu in Shanxi province. [Photo by Wang Pei for China Daily]
Over more than 70 years, the cadres and people of Youyu have participated extensively in afforestation. They have established over 1,124 square kilometers of forests and successfully treated more than 90 percent of the desertified land, turning the previously barren region into a verdant terrain.
In this sand control campaign, the locals have applied science and technology to forestry development in the face of a windy climate that has little rain and that is beset by drought.
They adopted a number of advanced scientific and technological achievements and applicable technologies and dispatched professional and skilled technicians to the afforestation front line. They adhered to biodiversity properties, the adaptability of tree species and the completeness of the ecosystem, as well as adjusted the structure of tree species – exploring a scientific forest management system suitable for semi-desertified land.
Water birds winter at the Cangtou River in Youyu. [Photo by Yue Feng for China Daily]
Meanwhile, Youyu has achieved a good balance in environmental protection and economic development in a sustainable way.
In the county, 186 sq km of sea buckthorn trees – which were planted to prevent sandstorms and to maintain soil and water – have gradually grown into a profitable industry.
"In 1984, Youyu began to develop sea buckthorn industry," said Cao Man, director of the Sea Buckthorn Research Institute of Youyu. According to Liu Zhanbiao, the director of the Youyu forestry bureau, the county has so far developed 12 sea buckthorn processing enterprises, with an annual output of 30,000 metric tons of sea buckthorn products and an annual output value of some 200 million yuan ($31.38 million).
Apart from the sea buckthorn industry, Youyu has formed a green industry system with 750,000 sheep, 266 sq km of land planted with small grains, 28 sq km of diversified plants and more than 20 leading green agricultural enterprises. Relying on its increasingly beautiful ecological environment, Youyu has also established a number of ecological tourist attractions such as the Cangtou River National Wetland Park, the Huangshawa National Desert Park and Nanshan Forest Park, and has boosted its forest-themed cultural tourism industry.
In 2020, the county received 4.25 million visits by tourists and generated 2.64 billion yuan in tourism revenue.