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When we hear the name The Great Wall of China, we find ourselves at the top of a mammoth wall which was built to protect the Chinese Empire from foreign intruders. Now, China is facing another enemy and it is building another wall to protect itself.

The Three-North Shelter Forest Program, also known as The Great Green Wall, is a human-made barrier to cope with the rapidly spreading desert and other climatic changes in China. It is the world’s largest tree-planting project and since 1978, 66 billion trees have been planted.

The project was started in 1978 and is expected to be completed around 2050 with a complete length of 2,800 miles (4,500 km). China has faced losses in terms of Gobi Desert eating up grasslands as much as 1,400 sq. mi (3,600 km2) per year. The dust storms have been increasing each year and have caused impacts on agricultural activities of neighboring countries too. This project aims at covering China’s 42% territory till 2050.

The 4th phase of the project was started in 2003. It has two parts:

  • The use of aerial seeding to protect wide strips of land where the soil is less dry.
  • Offering cash motivations to farmers to plant trees and shrubs in areas that are drier.

According to official figures, the tree cover in the Three North area has increased from 5% to 12%. But, the project is facing a lot heat from the critics. The local residents of arid areas have complaints like decreasing water level at a very fast pace.

A farmer from Zhangjia village, close to Beijing, says that a well that required him to draw water up 9 metres a decade ago has sunk to 60 metres. The trees being grown on the barren land are pines and poplars which are easy to grow and have economic benefits. These trees being the non-native are giving rise to an “ecological mismatch”, says Jiang Hong of the University of Hawaii. This makes them more prone to diseases. Cao Shixiong of Beijing Forestry University estimates that just 15% of trees planted on China’s drylands have survived.

Since 2003, 450,000 people of Inner Mongolia have been rehabilitated to other areas to prevent the land from degrading further. The project has generated some benefits in some small areas with better rainfall, but the desert has continued to expand in the bigger picture. The cost of tree plantation has risen tenfold and trees are dying.

Perhaps China is trying its best but the desert is expanding, and this new Great Wall is failing to serve its purpose.

Based on a report in Economist.com.

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Arpit Verma
fossBytes co-founder and an entrepreneur who is in love with budding technologies. A tech enthusiast and a guy who loves to play games and have a good time with his friends!