Introducing Green Net
Day Two of Cheryl Kow’s Horqin Chronicles, detailing her recent tree-planting experience in the Horqin Desert in Inner Mongolia:
After a breakfast buffet of Chinese staples (fried and steamed pancakes, rice and millet congee, eggs and pickled vegetables), we set off for Agura Desert, where the bulk of the “Timberland Forest” stands.
The road to Agura is lined with tall poplars designed to “catch” strong winds from blowing into the desert. Beyond that, we see wide open sand spaces. There is some beauty in its desolateness.
Tree planting volunteers in the “Timberland Forest” in the Horqin Desert.
Upon our arrival we are welcomed by Mr. Otaki and Mr. Kitaura, two guides from Green Net. Established in January 2000, Green Net is a Japanese non-profit organization that has undertaken the uphill task of reforestation and education in an effort to reverse the desertification process. Timberland has partnered with Green Net for the last 8 years.
Mr. Otaki and Mr. Kitaura outline for our group many of the factors that have contributed to the region’s desertification:
- The population in Inner Mongolia has increased four times in the last 10 years and livestock has increased three hundred times, leading to insufficient land and agriculture to meet the needs for food and mercantile transactions. This has led to the overuse and abuse of land for both food and commercial purposes.
- Little education to farmers about the importance of crop rotation or harvest rotation so as not to deplete the land of resources.
- Government rewards agriculture in monetary terms, as it provides much revenue from export and deems environmental activism impractical.
- Farmers use what little land remains as feed for rearing animals like cows, horses, for export, which again provides a valuable source of income.
For the past 10 years, Green Net has worked not just to plant trees, but also to plant the seeds of environmentalism through educative reforms with the villages and through schools to sustain their efforts — but this has proven an uphill task in the face of commercial bureaucracy. It’s pretty much a staggering organizational effort.
Not all of their efforts are in vain. They have also initiated successful programs in schools and allow students to earn credits when they take part in environmental projects. They have also the backing and long term commitment of several partners, who help in activity, in communication and in donations to help sustain this initiative.
We travel as far as we can in our large bus, then hop into 4-wheel drive vehicles for the final leg of our ride through the desert. It’s a pretty hard ride, and we are bouncing up and off the seats. Finally, we disembark for a short walk into the Timberland poplar forest. It’s beautiful, watching the wind comb through the leaves.
Mr Otaki tasks us with trimming the low-lying branches which are fighting for nutrients with the main tree, lowering its chance of survival. Armed with gloves and gardening scissors, we stoop down and get to work. It’s much more difficult than it looks and progress is slow but satisfying. At about 3 pm it starts to get cool. I look up from my work, and for a while watch the poplars sway with the wind in some kind of mesmerising dance against a mid-blue sky.
The Timberland forest currently has 680,000 trees. The survival rate of the trees has dipped from 50% to 45%, due to the recent increase in rewards farmers obtain from the government for their produce and increase in number of penalization rules for conservation efforts. Still, our aim: 1 million hectares, 1.5 million trees by 2011.