Arab scientists learn to fight desertification in China

Ningxia
Located in the arid northwestern part of China, Ningxia has been fighting drought and desert expansion ever since the autonomous region was established in 1958. Image: Climatehistories.innerasiaresearch.org

Sixteen scientists from Yemen, Sudan, Libya, Palestine and Morocco participated in a month-long desert control training program, which concluded on Monday in northwest China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.

The Anti-Desertification Technology Training Program for Arab Countries, co-organized by the Ministry of Commerce and the Ningxia Academy of Agriculture and Forestry Sciences (NAAFS), includes courses on a wide range of topics, such as tree selection and the development of industries related to desert control.

The training program has been held five times since it was initiated in 2006, with more than 100 desert control specialists from Arab countries participating.

The scientists learned about techniques used to prevent desertification in Ningxia and exchanged experiences with their Chinese counterparts.

Bechir Rguez, chief engineer at Tunisia’s Ministry of Environment, attended the training session with his colleague, Mohamed Maati.

“Tunisia is troubled by desertification throughout the year. It’s affecting our country’s economic development and people’s lives,” said Rguez.

Tunisian scientists had tried to plant date palm trees in an attempt to fix the sand dunes and fend off sandstorms, but the trees were soon blown away by fierce winds.

While taking a field trip to one of Ningxia’s experimental desert control zones, the two scientists were amazed by the lush plants covering the sandy land and discovered potential solutions to the problems they face at home.

“For example, the technique of stabilizing sand dunes with chemicals, construction or even vegetation could be used in Tunisia,” Maati said.

Located in the arid northwestern part of China, Ningxia has been fighting drought and desert expansion ever since the autonomous region was established in 1958.

Scientists have come up with many creative methods to prevent the situation from worsening.

Statistics from the regional government show that the total area of desertified land in Ningxia has decreased from 1.65 million hectares in the 1970s to 1.18 million hectares in 2010, with more than 400,000 hectares of desert transformed into arable land.

Laila Annouri, an environmental engineer from Morocco, said Ningxia’s extensive experience in attracting foreign investment and developing desert-related industries could be quite valuable to her country.

“With financial and technical support from abroad, the region has progressed significantly in terms of desert control,” she said. “Many of the techniques they invented work really well in arid areas.”

According to Wang Feng, head of NAAFS, the Arab scientists are particularly interested in the selection and cultivation of drought-resistant plants in Ningxia.

“Some of these plants can be used to produce animal feed, which could develop into a profitable industry,” he explained.

Abd Uladim Mustfa El Treki, an official from a training unit under Libya’s National Committee to Combat Desertification, told Xinhua that he’s looking forward to arranging for more Libyan scientists to study in China.

“What has happened in Ningxia during the past 50 years is truly admirable,” he said. “I can’t wait to introduce some of these unique techniques to more scientists in my country.”

Deserts account for a quarter of the world’s total land area. More than 110 countries and about 1 billion people have been affected by desertification. China and many Arab countries are among the worst-affected areas.

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