Green Wall of China

green wall

The Green Wall of China is a series of human-planted forest strips in the People’s Republic of China, designed to hold back the expansion of the Gobi Desert.

The project was begun in 1978, and is planned to be completed around 2074, at which point it is planned to be 2,800 miles (4,500 km) long. 1,390 square miles of Chinese grassland are overtaken every year by the Gobi Desert.

The 4th and most recent phase of the project, started in 2003, has two parts: the use of aerial seeding to cover wide swaths of land where the soil is less arid, and the offering of cash incentives to farmers to plant trees and shrubs in areas that are more arid. The ‘wall’  will have a belt with sand-tolerant vegetation arranged in checkerboard patterns in order to stabilize the sand dunes. A gravel platform will be next to the vegetation to hold down sand and encourage a soil crust to form. The trees should also serve as a wind break from dust-storms.

As of 2009 China’s planted forest covered more than 500,000 square kilometers – the largest artificial forest in the world. However, of the 53,000 hectares planted, a quarter has died and of the remaining many are dwarf trees, which lack the capacity to protect the soil.

There is still debate on the effectiveness of the project. If the trees succeed in taking root they could soak up large amounts of groundwater, which would be extremely problematic for arid regions like northern China. Land erosion and overfarming have halted planting in many areas of the project. China’s booming pollution rate has also weakened the soil, causing it to be unusable in many areas.

Furthermore, planting blocks of fast-growing trees reduces the biodiversity of forested areas, creating areas that are not suitable to plants and animals normally found in forests. The lack of diversity also makes the trees more susceptible to disease.

An alternative method for fighting the spread of deserts is ‘enclosure,’ a non-invasive restoration technique that fences off (encloses) a degraded area for two years to allow the land to restore itself.


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