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Characteristics of desertiﬁcation and its rehabilitation in China
Yong Zha* & Jay Gao†‡ *School of Geographical Sciences, Nanjing Normal University, Nanjing 210097, People’s Republic of China †Department of Geography, University of Auckland, Auckland Private Bag 92019, New Zealand
(Received 20 March 1997, accepted 16 June 1997)
The deﬁnition of desertiﬁcation and its causes in the Chinese literature are reviewed and compared with those in international publications. Both Chinese researchers and their western counterparts have difﬁculty in reaching a generally accepted deﬁnition for desertiﬁcation and an agreement upon the exact role played by human activities and environmental settings in desertiﬁcation initiation and development. Tremendous efforts in China have gone into rehabilitating desertiﬁed land into productive uses with great contribution to existing knowledge in reclaiming desertiﬁed land. The early biological-oriented measures based solely on economic return have recently been replaced by a much more successful, multi-disciplinary approach of rehabilitation combined with preventive measures that follow sound ecological principles. ©1997 Academic Press Limited Keywords: desertiﬁcation; causes of desertiﬁcation; severity assessment; rehabilitation of desertiﬁed land; land reclamation; China
Introduction With a territory of 9·6 million km2, China is one of the most severely desertiﬁed countries in the world. Desertiﬁcation is threatening the lives of close to 400 million people and has affected about 3·3 million km2 of land (Chen et al., 1996). It is thus very important to study desertiﬁcation and rehabilitate desertiﬁed land into productive uses. Although sand transport and sand dune movements were studied in the 1960s (Zhu et al., 1964; Wu, 1965), these efforts were highly limited in their scope and quantity. Spurred by the United Nations Conference on Desertiﬁcation (UNCOD) held in Nairobi, Kenya in 1977, immense research on desertiﬁcation and its rehabilitation has been carried out with fruitful results. In this paper the characteristics of desertiﬁcation in China are identiﬁed through a review of published papers. The literature cited, with a few exceptions, comes chieﬂy from journals and books recently published in Chinese. Wherever relevant, the issues under consideration are discussed
‡Corresponding author. 0140–1963/97/030419 + 14 $25.00/0/ae970290 © 1997 Academic Press Limited
land degradation in humid regions is beyond the scope of this paper. 1983).. Another related term is called fengshahua (aeolian sandiﬁcation). 1993). The various deﬁnitions of desertiﬁcation are ﬁrst presented.’ However. According to Chen (1991). Li (1988) argued that this process should be called strictly land degradation. Deﬁnition of desertiﬁcation Coined by the French botanist and ecologist Aubr´ ville (1949) nearly half a century e ago. it has been agreed that the term ‘desertiﬁcation’ should be restricted to dryland environments only (Thomas. 1994) in three aspects: (a) indiscrimination between the process of desertiﬁcation and its state. For instance. these deﬁnitions differ from one another widely in the process and time scale involved. the outcome of the rehabilitating efforts are summarized.. Apparently.420 Y. The causes of desertiﬁcation and its development are discussed next. Therefore. no single deﬁnition is generally accepted (Dregne. it at most forms a stage in the development of desertiﬁcation (Zhu et al. Efforts to monitor desertiﬁcation and to rehabilitate desertiﬁed land into productive uses are reviewed. and some semihumid sandy areas under the inﬂuence of various conditions at diverse time scales. ZHA & J. GAO in a wider scientiﬁc context through citing articles published internationally in English books and journals. semi-arid. 1996). Prior to that. According to UNCOD (1978). Referring to desert encroachment in arid and semi-arid areas of non-desert landforms due to improper human . and (c) its exact causes. More than one hundred deﬁnitions have appeared in the English literature so far (Glantz & Orlovsky. Lack of agreement in deﬁning desertiﬁcation originates in part from its confusion with desertization because of inappropriate translation. 1983). desertiﬁcation has been dissimilarly deﬁned by Chinese researchers. 1989). It is ‘the process of environmental change that is characterized by sandblasting and forms a desert-like landform in formerly non-sandy areas’ (Dong et al. Much confusion in the literature has occurred as a result of its unscrupulous use (Thomas & Middleton. Though close to desertiﬁcation in meaning. 1986). The concept of ‘desertiﬁcation’ was not introduced into the Chinese literature until after the UNCOD in 1977 (Chen et al. It refers to the process of forming desert-like landforms by sand outside arid and semi-arid zones (Zhu. 1988). desertiﬁcation is the contemporary process of land degradation that is caused mainly by sand in a fragile ecosystem and forms a desert-like landform. the term ‘desertiﬁcation’ has undergone numerous modiﬁcations in its meaning since then. Rhodes (1991) and Thomas (1993) suggest that the concept of desertiﬁcation be revised in light of renewed scientiﬁc advances that have enhanced our understanding of the problem. However.’ Increasingly. It refers to the coarsening process of the land surface after ﬁne sandy and nutrient particles are lost to aeolian erosion. 1993). desertiﬁcation refers to the ‘diminution or destruction of the biological potential of the land that can lead ultimately to desert-like conditions.. Zhu & Liu (1981) referred to it as ‘the process of environmental degradation in non-sandy areas where the fragile ecology is disturbed by excessive human activities’. It was deﬁned by Yang (1987) as a series of climatic and geomorphologic processes in arid. natural ﬂuctuation in environment causing long-term detrimental impact must be distinguished from land degradation caused by human actions. Recently. followed by consideration of its spatial extent and the magnitude of the desertiﬁcation problem. Finally. Profoundly affected by its constantly changing international meaning. (b) non-consensus regarding the geographic regions to which it applies. Rapp (1974) deﬁned it as ‘the spread of desert-like conditions in arid or semi-arid areas due to man’s inﬂuence or to climatic change. the term tudi shahua (land sandiﬁcation) was in common use (Dong & Liu. Namely.
Some of these historical events of desertiﬁcation have been documented by various scholars. It has been subject to the southward encroachment of a sandy desert since the Figure 1. variables that are incorporated in the deﬁnition implicitly. 2) has existed since the Quaternary. even though its size ﬂuctuated over the years. All of them are concentrated in the north-western. waterlogging and soil salinization to avoid confusion. Zhou & Pu (1996) argued that the international deﬁnition was by no means perfect and had to be altered to suit desertiﬁcation peculiarities in China. (1988) found that the Mu Us Sandy Land (B in Fig. whereas desertiﬁcation was translated as huangmohua (barreniﬁcation) in Chinese. desertization was translated as shamohua (desertiﬁcation). Sandy deserts and sandy lands are differentiated because the latter is formed out of human activities (Source: modiﬁed from Fullen & Mitchell. these Chinese deﬁnitions place a much greater emphasis on the material (sand) that is essential in desertiﬁcation initiation than on climatic. Unlike the international ones. especially precipitation. 1994). All sandy deserts and lands are located in northern China that has an arid or semi-arid climate (Fig.DESERTIFICATION AND REHABILITATION. 1). The term huangmohua should be used in its broadest sense to encompass desert creeping. 2). Distribution of sandy deserts (1–8) and lands (9–12) with respect to climatic zones in China. . 2) dating back to the Han Dynasty (202 BC–AD 220). CHINA 421 activities. many parts of China are susceptible to desertiﬁcation. The proposed adoption of huangmohua will undoubtedly make the concept of desertiﬁcation in Chinese closer to its international meaning. land degradation in the forms of soil erosion. Dong et al. (1986) cited notable instances of widespread desertiﬁcation in the semi-arid steppe (A in Fig. Severity of desertiﬁcation Historically. northern and north-eastern (‘Three North’) dryland (Fig. Zhu et al.
1992). (b) types of desertiﬁed land. makes accurate estimates impossible (Fullen & Mitchell. 2) contains 120. As a remarkable example of desertiﬁcation in Chinese history. The land affected by a speciﬁc type of degradation was included in one ﬁgure.000 km2 of land that were desertiﬁed during the prehistoric period (Guo et al. Approximately 13% of the territory comprises of deserts and desertiﬁed land (Qu. 1994). . accounting for 34% of total land area (Chen et al. but 2·2 million km2 by the account of Zhou & Pu (1996). Guo et al. but not in another. The sheer scale of the desertiﬁcation problem... 2) can be dated back to 31. The history of desertiﬁcation in the Taklimakan Desert (1 in Fig. Desertiﬁed land in China totals 1·1 million km2 by the account of Zhu & Cui (1996). the Ordos Plateau (Fig. for their names refer to Fig. 1 (Source: modiﬁed from Sheehy. 1989). 1989). 1996).000 years ago (Wang & Dong.422 Y. 1994). The massively disparate ﬁgures reported are attributed to three reasons: (a) deﬁnition of desertiﬁcation. Distribution of historical and contemporary desertiﬁcation in China. ZHA & J. 1 and F in Fig. combined with its complex causes. At its southern fringe a belt of migratory sand about 60 km wide formed along the Great Wall during the last three centuries. (1989) reported a total of 1·3 million km2 of desert and desertiﬁed land without specifying the quantity for desertiﬁed land alone. 1980). Numbers represent sandy deserts/lands. GAO Tang Dynasty (AD 618–906) (Guo et al. Some authors included desertiﬁed land in arid and semi-arid areas whereas others also counted the land degraded by erosion in humid and semi-humid areas. Zhu Figure 2. It is estimated that 3·3 million km2 have been affected by desertiﬁcation. At present China still faces a serious problem of desertiﬁcation. None of the authors provided accuracy for their estimates..
DESERTIFICATION AND REHABILITATION.. accounting for 9·2% of the total area in China (Hou. and 47·4% under development. Areas already affected by desertiﬁcation were included in one ﬁgure whereas areas vulnerable to desertiﬁcation were also counted in another. The amount of desertiﬁed land estimated by different authors converges at around 33·4 million ha (Fig. 1992). 1991).000 km2 of land susceptible to desertiﬁcation in their estimate. Furthermore. 26·9% of the affected land is severely desertiﬁed. and (c) degree of desertiﬁcation. For instance. All of them have a patchy and fragmented pattern of spatial distribution (Zhu & Cui. Desertiﬁed areas are widely scattered in a few clusters in northern drylands (Fig. these areas are usually located at the periphery of a desert. This trend of drastic reduction conﬁrms that ‘previous assessments of desertiﬁcation may have over-estimated the worldwide extent of the phenomenon’ (Thomas. Figure 3. at least for China. 1982). 3). or the lower stretch of a rive (Figs 2 and 3) (Guo et al. (1989) included 81. 1996). The ﬁgure given by Zhou & Pu (1996) included land affected by soil erosion (1·79 million km2) and salinization (0·065 million km2). The most prominent cluster is formed by 207 agropastoral counties in 13 ‘Three North’ provinces where 109·5 million ha of land have been desertiﬁed. Characterized by a landform of partially stabilized sand dunes covered with shrubs. vulnerability to desertiﬁcation should be distinguished from desertiﬁcation itself (Rhodes. Distribution of contemporary desertiﬁcation in China separated into actual and potential categories (Source: modiﬁed from Zhu. oasis. . 1985). 3) if the revised international deﬁnition of desertiﬁcation by Rhodes (1991) is adopted. According to Thomas (1993). In this zone alone. hyperarid environments should not be considered desertiﬁed because they are desert-like in their natural state. Zhu et al. CHINA 423 and Cui (1996) included desertiﬁed land by water erosion (0·37 million km2) and the areas affected by physical and chemical erosion (0·38 million km2) in their estimate. 193). 25·7% strongly under development.
Desertiﬁcation of steppe grazing land throughout North China has reached crisis proportions (Sheehy. recurrent conversion and reversal of land use from crop to pasture triggered desertiﬁcation 30 km south of the Great Wall in the 1670s (Fig. Dong (1992) identiﬁed a close correlation between changes in desertiﬁcation and populations of human beings and livestock. 1992). Commonly identiﬁed ones include sandy. 1996). 2) grew from 20 in the 1950s to 52 in the late 1970s (Zhu et al. 1984). Causes of desertiﬁcation Internationally. 1994. These human-related factors have also been reported to cause desertiﬁcation in China.000 km2 of land were desertiﬁed in the second half of this century (Guo et al. with another 158. 1983). 1992). 1994). In North China 50.. (1984b) recommended that population be controlled to prevent desertiﬁcation from worsening. even hundreds of times (Dong et al. Unlike human-related factors. Destructive human activities range from overcultivation. 2) (Bao et al. Xinjiang Autonomous Region. 42·9% was caused by overcultivation... and deteriorated vegetation quality (Zhu & Cui. 1992). GAO The problem of contemporary desertiﬁcation has worsened in a number of areas. the causes of desertiﬁcation have been identiﬁed as overcultivation. to construction of transportation routes (Zhu et al. Its direct destruction includes reduced soil fertility.. Sandy land in Uxin Qi (an administrative unit equivalent of county). excessive gathering of fuelwood and plants for medicinal purposes. by 0·5–2·6 m annually during 1958–1986 (Anon. Inner Mongolia (Fig. 1). 1) increased from 4193 km2 in 1957 to 5685 km2 in 1977 (Lin et al.. 1994b). he questioned whether overpopulation caused desertiﬁcation. 1987). Sheehy. and salinization (Goudie. desertiﬁcation has caused colossal environmental detriment and economic loss. the environmental settings conductive to desertiﬁcation in China are quite unique. human errors in policymaking were responsible for rapid desertiﬁcation in drought-prone sandy lands between the mid-1960s and mid-1970s (Zhu & Cui. degraded soil structure. and the rest by mining and construction (Zhu et al. ZHA & J. Although not explicitly identiﬁed as a separate factor. or the equivalent of fertilizers worth 17 billion yuan (Luo et al.. In addition. 2) desertiﬁed land increased from 137. a process arising from multiple elements. Of the 3·4 million ha newly desertiﬁed land in the agropastoral north. The indirect loss associated with desertiﬁcation is 2–3 times more. overgrazing. 1990). Mobile and semi-mobile sand dunes encroached upon the oasis in the Gurban Tunggut Desert (2 in Fig.. 1984a).. In the 1980s desertiﬁed areas expanded at an annual rate of 2103 km2 (Shou et al.. In the agropastoral zone (Fig. Zhu et al. 22·2% by excessive collection of fuelwood. Affecting millions of people over a vast area. plowing sandy land accelerates aeolian erosion by tens. 1981. overgrazing of livestock. overpopulation is the reason for most of the excessive human activities mentioned above. Thomas & Middleton. 1990.000 km2 in the late 1950s to 176.424 Y.. loose surfacial sediment deposits and the coincidence of droughts with the windy season . Frequent ethnic wars. 1996). No quantitative relationship between population growth and desert expansion has been established yet. 1987). Under the same natural settings. Loss of soil nutrients by aeolian erosion totals 5600 tons. 1994). The percentage of desertiﬁed land in the Korqin Steppe (A in Fig.000 km2 potentially vulnerable to desertiﬁcation (Wang. 1989). 31·1% by overgrazing. 1996). It causes a direct economic loss estimated between US$2–3 billion (Anon. Chen et al. However. deforestation.088 km2 in the 1970s. mining.
and the remaining 90% by human activities. Desertiﬁcation worsened in all areas heavily inﬂuenced by human activities in north-east Urumqi (Fig. Natural variables played a major role in historic desertiﬁcation. Because of the limited length of climatic records and thus the difﬁculty in establishing long-term prediction of climate. Le Hou´ rou (1992) thought that global warming could accelerate the process of e desertization. 1991). 1) to continue. On the one hand.. Neither of them can function independently without the other. Wang & Dong (1994) found that global warming would cause desertiﬁcation in the Taklimakan Desert (1 in Fig. 1993). It was found that desertiﬁcation in the Mu Us Sandy Land (9 in Fig. 1996).and climatically-induced changes. 1). Anthropogenic factors are intrinsically interacting with environmental settings in desertiﬁcation initiation and evolution. 1994). desertiﬁcation in ancient agricultural areas resulted from the worsened physical environment. Results published in the English literature contribute little to elucidate the debate. 1985). and natural ones 40%. Anthropogenic elements such as improper land management practices taking precedence over ecological principles are blamed for contemporary desertiﬁcation. Rising temperatures and declining rainfall for a period of 30–50 years in Sudan may accelerate desertiﬁcation there (Alvi. many others are of the opinion that human factors are more important. The seeming contradiction of these ﬁndings can be resolved by a simultaneous examination of both categories of factors. No consensus has been reached regarding the exact role played by the two categories of factors. The main reason for desertiﬁcation in the Ordos Plateau (Fig. Luk (1983) found that droughts did not always lead to desert expansion. Sites of ruined ancient cities in the Mu Us Sandy Land convinced Lin et al. Desertiﬁcation research in the revisionist era requires an ongoing awareness of anthropogenic vs. At . While environmental conditions and physical factors created a fragile ecosystem and initiated the formation of deserts. 1977). Dong (1992) argued that historical desertiﬁcation was caused mainly by natural factors. 1993). Dong (1992) found that human factors accounted for 60% of the variation in desertiﬁcation. especially climate change. CHINA 425 (Zhu & Cui. especially climatic ﬂuctuation. More detailed studies on the extent of desertiﬁcation and its long-term monitoring at regional and national levels are needed for the realistic assessment of roles played by desertiﬁcation-triggering factors (Thomas.DESERTIFICATION AND REHABILITATION. and secondly by modern tectonic activities and inappropriate human activities (Dong et al. large-scale cultivation and grazing since the mid-seventeenth century triggered rapid desertiﬁcation. but excessive clearing of land for cultivation and grazing did. it is difﬁcult to separate human. In the absence of convincing evidences from the western literature. climatic inﬂuences on dryland resources (Rhodes. 1982). Human activities are largely responsible for desertiﬁcation in arid and semi-arid China (Zhu. Feng (1987) reported that only 10% of the desertiﬁed land in China was caused by natural factors such as droughts and aeolian erosion. and the latter fuels the power to move them. human elements were principally responsible for their deterioration and expansion (Dong & Liu. The former provides the materials to be transported. the conﬂict of opinions is reconciled by taking into account the differential temporal and spatial scales of desertiﬁcation initiation and development. 198). (1983) that desertiﬁcation was not problematic in historic times. Indeed. 1996). Similarly. 1) with yearly precipitation. On the other hand. Based on the results from principal component analysis. After correlating the desertiﬁcation rate in the Mu Us Sandy Land (9 in Fig. 2) lies not in climate change but in human activities (Hou. but ¨ remained little changed wherever human inﬂuence was small or nil (Liu & Jiang. 1) was caused primarily by climatic ﬂuctuation during the Ice Age. the question whether continual climate change gives rise to desert expansion cannot be answered with conﬁdence (Anon. According to the Expedition Team of Academia Sinica (1978). and the process would be accelerated by human impact. Instead. and thus they should be analysed simultaneously.
1983). but not the location where the changes had occured.. 1996). dynamic monitoring. satellite images have not completely eliminated the need for aerial photographs. historical aerial photographs were relied upon to determine the expansion of desertiﬁed land (Bao et al. 1996). 1996). satellite images such as Landsat Multispectral Scanner (MSS) and TM have been utilized to delineate the extent of desertiﬁed areas (Luk. 1990). 1992). TM data enable them to be mapped at an accuracy level comparable to that from aerial photographs (Liu & Jiang. Comparison of one 1977 MSS image with one 1989 TM image revealed the shrinkage of vegetative cover in a 2100 km2 area near Urumqi (Fig. GAO the regional level the physical elements are more important than the human ones whose importance becomes increasingly larger as the scale is progressively reduced to a local one. Guo.. and ¨ the southward shift of a sandy desert (Liu & Jiang. In the absence of historical aerial photographs. Shaanxi Province. Xinjiang. Since the emergence of space-borne remote sensing.. Guo. Desertiﬁcation rehabilitation The history of rehabilitating desertiﬁed land in China is essentially the history of converting it into productive uses in sandy areas (Chen et al. A prerequisite of a successful rehabilitation scheme is the identiﬁcation of desertiﬁed areas and assessment of desertiﬁcation severity. Desertiﬁcation severity levels mapped from TM images are consistently within 90% of those obtained from colour infrared aerial photographs (Guo. 1996). 1983. 1990.. The acquired spatially-based information facilitated the identiﬁcation of desertiﬁcation causes at some sites inside the study area. Such inefﬁcient methods of information acquisition have gradually been replaced by the increasing use of small-scale aerial photographs (Zhu et al. 1989. 1996). Overlay of multiple images or maps is ideally carried out in a Geographic Information System (GIS). Despite these high accuracy levels. and trend forecasting at the . 1984b.426 Y. 1). ZHA & J. 1989). 1983. 1983). ground survey results were used as a surrogate (Lin et al. The results interpreted from historical aerial photographs guided the mapping of desertiﬁed land from MSS data (Luk. Liu & Jiang. 2) because 55 million people and 10 million ha of cropland and pasture have been affected by desertiﬁcation (Guo et al. Monitoring and assessment of desertiﬁcation Historically. Zha & Gao (1997) overlaid two desertiﬁcation distribution maps of Yulin County (Fig. manual interpretation for aerial photographs and satellite images. 1). Guo. ﬁeld trips are carried out occasionally to verify the results obtained from photointerpretation and to assess their accuracy (Zha. Wang & Kang (1990) outlined a prototype microcomputer-based information system for desertiﬁcation rehabilitation. Two methods have been used to process the remotely sensed data... which can be accomplished by overlaying time-sequential data such as remotely sensed images. Liu & Jiang. 1990. 1996). 1990. So far GIS has found limited applications in identifying desert expansion. desertiﬁcation information is obtained from ground surveys and expeditions. 1984). Liu & Jiang. At a spatial resolution of 30 m. Desertiﬁcation monitoring comprises identiﬁcation of changes in desertiﬁed areas. As a supplementary means. Since satellite images were not available prior to the early 1970s. to identify the areas desertiﬁed or converted to productive uses between 1960 and 1987. and digital analysis for satellite data (Luk. Comparison of the two sets of results could indicate the general trend of desertiﬁcation change. Most of the rehabilitating efforts concentrated on the agropastoral zone (Fig. Shou et al.
1987). engineering works alone cannot eliminate desertiﬁcation hazards on roads (Chen. If combined with vegetation networks. their effectiveness is considerably improved (Zou et al. An annual removal of 3 cm and deposition of > 5 cm of sand were considered severe. both under the action of wind (Lin et al. The quantity of sand transported over a checkerboard is only 1% of that over a shifting sand dune (Zhu. Percentage of mobile sand dunes was also used to classify desertiﬁcation as severe. < 1 cm of erosion and deposition slight. current status. Hedysarum scopariu. no further progress has been reported on the planned research. However. and reduced soil erosion (Yang. Instead of using a single factor. improved soil moisture retention. including potential hazard. especially if the results are obtained from remotely sensed images. Various criteria have been proposed to assess desertiﬁcation severity. human population and livestock size. ongoing. All these studies were carried out at the regional or local level. Bao et al. (1981) applied a combination of the amount of aeolian erosion and the change in surface landforms. Moreover. 30 and 50% is considered. CHINA 427 country level. increased soil temperature and organic matter inputs from biomass. Checkerboards at a height of 0·15–0·2 m above the ground increase the roughness of a sand surface by 400–600 times. severe. Liu & Jiang (1996) considered a vegetative cover of < 5% extremely severe and < 20% severe. 1990. 1994). Soil crust with moss growing on it can resist aeolian erosion force within a speed as high as 25 m s–1. 1984b). 1981). vegetative cover proves to be a more popular criterion. Therefore. Planting of shrubs and trees brings more ecological and economic beneﬁts from the control efforts. shrubs can achieve the same effect as a 1 m by 1 m checkerboard (Yang.. The direct beneﬁts are decreased wind velocities. Dong (1996) derived desertiﬁcation severity levels from weighted averaging of 16 desertiﬁcation contributing factors. making it sustainable. planted vegetation alone . Zhu et al. desertiﬁcation rate. Fullen & Mitchell. However. Construction of engineering works and planting of vegetation are applied to halting the advance of migratory sand dunes (Dong et al. At a density of > 20%.. 1992). However. extremely severe. 1981). 15. A vegetative cover of < 5. 1983). Species of dwarf shrubs suitable for entraining sand include Salix ﬂavida. strongly affected and under development (Zhu et al. However. Desertiﬁcation rehabilitation In sandy drylands desertiﬁcation occurs in two manners. the degree of aeolian erosion. severe and most severe). (1984) employed the depth of underlying sand. Similarly. even though their optimal width is still debatable (Feng et al..DESERTIFICATION AND REHABILITATION. Nevertheless... 1981). GIS has not been utilized to map desertiﬁcation severity or to assess desertiﬁcation hazard and its environmental impact.. and reduce wind velocity by 20–40% at a height of 0·5 m and by 10% at 2 m above the surface (Zou et al. direct encroachment of mobile sand dunes upon grazing land. 1990). 1992). No research has been reported on the assessment and classiﬁcation of desertiﬁcation severity at the national level. respectively. and Caragana korshinkskii planted at an interval of 1–2 m. 1994).. a vegetative cover of > 80% represents no desertiﬁcation hazard. checkerboards increase soil organic content by 23-fold after a surface crust is formed. moderate and slight (Guo. rehabilitating desertiﬁcation is essentially to slow down wind velocity through increased surface roughness (Zou et al. Engineering works such as straw checkerboards can effectively reduce wind velocity and minimize the amount of sand transported. and the amount of vegetative cover and shifting sand dunes to map severity at four levels (latent. and deposition of drifting sand over grasses. 1990).
If they function as anticipated. the indirect beneﬁts come from increased grain yield. The measures were designed for rehabilitating the deteriorated ecosystem based on both ecological principles and economic return. bringing forest cover from 5·05% in 1978 to 7·09 in 1989 (Zhu. and dune stabilization using straw checkerboards and planted xerophytes (Fullen & Mitchell. With a combination of rehabilitation and preventive measures following basic ecological principles. 1989). 1992).. Zha & Gao (1997) found planting grasses at the fringe of sandy land is the least effective as they are readily topped by the shifting sand dunes. GAO in partially desertiﬁed areas cannot bring desertiﬁcation under complete control. Instead. irrigation with silt-laden river water.428 Y. The more severely an area is desertiﬁed. if the land is exploited beyond its carrying capacity. Common land reclamation strategies include windbreaks. Because of the signiﬁcance of vegetative cover in reducing wind speed and generating economic beneﬁts. especially during its later stages of succession (Chen. the farmland-protective forests will protect 8·5 million ha of cropland and increase grain yield by 5·5 million tons. Valued at 44·6 billion yuan. Zhu & Cui (1996) qualitatively outlined the successful measures in arid and semi-arid areas. The effectiveness of these rehabilitating measures has not been comprehensively assessed. Accordingly. 1990). as unveiled by observations of areas planted with trees.. the higher the proportions for woodland and pasture (Zhu et al. 1985). In the ﬁrst stage 7·9 million ha of protective forests were planted (Guo et al. the actual achievements are much less spectacular than reported due to the low survival rate of the trees (Becker.. 1984b). This ratio varies with the severity of desertiﬁcation. ZHA & J. reconverting infertile cropland at the margin of steppe grazing land to semi-natural ecosystems. A ratio of 3:3:4 for land allocated to farming. Of the 5736 km2 of mobile sand dunes in the region. 3068 km2 have been stabilized (Yang. prior to the 1970s biological means were relied upon exclusively to stabilize sand dunes while other factors were neglected (Shou et al. Approved by the State Council in 1978. The direct economic beneﬁts from the project are estimated at 25·55 billion yuan. Outcome of desertiﬁcation rehabilitation The achievements of tackling desertiﬁcation are exempliﬁed by the ‘Three North’ project in the agropastoral zone of North China. A shelter belt of 170 km long by 300–400 m wide has been . 1992). this programme of constructing shelter-belt systems was launched in an area of 4·069 million km2 spreading across 13 provinces. pasture and forestry in semi-arid sandy areas can lead to an ecological balance (Zhu & Cui. 1981). desertiﬁcation can be harnessed and desertiﬁed land be reclaimed for productive uses. The disastrous consequence of the mistaken policy of stressing the paramount importance of grain yield in the 1970s has been corrected by reducing cropland if its cultivation is conducive to aeolian erosion and desertiﬁcation (Lin et al. sand ﬁxation and protection of pasture. a multi-disciplinary approach of rehabilitation and prevention was adopted. and developing land use patterns that integrate combinations of grazing land. 1994). 1992). 1990). the reversion of desertiﬁed land to productive uses has taken place in a number of areas. 1983). It was realized later that desertiﬁcation is a process resulting from multiple factors. However. However. scrubs and trees are more resistant to being buried by sand and thus more effective in halting desertiﬁcation. soil conservation. or 27 times the initial investment. 1996). Internationally renowned as China’s Green Great Wall. this multiple-stage project is expected to be completed by the year 2025 when forest coverage will reach 14·95%. no single control measure can function effectively (Dong. The rehabilitation methods include regulating growth of cropland and livestock.. At a smaller scale. woodland and cropland (Sheehy.
huge efforts are devoted to planting grasses and tree saplings. The natural settings are important to the initial formation of desert conditions in historical times. orchards. CHINA 429 established in north-east Ulan Buh Desert (7 in Fig. inadequate efforts are made to ensure their survival and the sustainability of the rehabilitation programme. These earlier problems have been remedied after the realization that desertiﬁcation resulted from a variety of factors. Engineering measures alone are not so effective in halting the encroachment of sand dunes as biological measures that can bring more economic return from the rehabilitating efforts. The multi-disciplinary. The multi-disciplinary approach of rehabilitation and prevention based on ecological principles and economic return has achieved much more success in rehabilitating the deteriorated ecosystem than the biological means. These issues include how to deﬁne desertiﬁcation properly and how to assess the exact role played by human-related and environmental factors in desertiﬁcation. whereas anthropogenic factors are critical to contemporary desertiﬁcation. Because of the pressure generated by an ever increasing population and dwindling arable land in China. 1984). Thanks to decades of desertiﬁcation control efforts. Shaanxi Province are predicted to increase by 104. forming an overall decreasing trend (Kang et al. the most severely affected area is forecast to decrease by 190. However. 1995). Although the moderately and slightly desertiﬁed areas in Yulin Country (Fig. Desertiﬁed land in northern Shaanxi Province (around 9 in Fig. and rehabilitating desertiﬁed land into productive uses. both human activities and natural settings. .DESERTIFICATION AND REHABILITATION.. 1). desertiﬁed land is rehabilitated to productive uses on the one hand. and excessive gathering of fuelwood and plant species for medicinal purposes. To conclude. 1) increased by 120 km2 between 1959–1990. Most of the affected areas are located in the arid and semi-arid north. Summary and conclusions Enormous efforts have gone toward tackling desertiﬁcation in China since the United Nations held its ﬁrst conference on combating desertiﬁcation 20 years ago. it is of paramount importance to rehabilitate the land lost to desertiﬁcation to productive uses. After preventive measures following sound ecological principles were adopted. and shelter belts (Zhu. Subsequently. protecting tens of thousand hectares of rangeland and cropland in more than 150 counties (Qu. 1) has been reclaimed for farmland and woodland along the river banks and in low-lying moist alluvial fans (Bao et al.000 ha. assessing its spatial distribution and severity. 1) in Inner Mongolia. In taming desertiﬁcation by biological means. Jay Gao would like to thank the University of Auckland for granting him research leave during which this research was undertaken. with the reclaimed land used for cropping. They are caused by both environmental settings and inappropriate human activities including overcultivation.. forestry. Due to the insufﬁcient amount of data collected. formerly stabilized sandy land is encroached upon by shifting sand dunes. 1980). ecologically-sound rehabilitating approach proves to be most effective in restoring desertiﬁed land to productive uses. Some of the problems facing Chinese scholars are identical to those facing their western counterparts. These efforts concentrated on deﬁning desertiﬁcation. determining its causes.000 ha. 1992). Consequently. overgrazing. but on the other. the desertiﬁcation trend has been reversed at various geographic scales. it is difﬁcult to disentangle the impact of anthropogenic desertiﬁcation effectively from that of environmental desertiﬁcation. restoration of desertiﬁed land makes up a huge portion of the scientiﬁc endeavour in desertiﬁcation research. China is facing a serious desertiﬁcation problem. oasis area in the southeastern Tengger Desert (6 in Fig. A disproportionate amount of emphasis is placed on desertiﬁcation control whereas insufﬁcient attention is given to prevention.
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