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Further advancing anti-desertification best practice demonstration for Greater Central Asia
In the famous Horqin Sandy Land, Inner Mongolia, rain is a rarity and plants, especially trees, regularly struggle for survival. It is no wonder then, with increasing grazing activities and global climate change, overall vegetation coverage has decreased and desertification has crept in over the last century. Over the past decades, the government has taken the lead with many large-scale anti-desertification programmes, such as the famous “Three-North Shelterbelt Program” since 1978, however new, more site-adapted approaches using recent insights from research are needed. 

Phase I of the project “Demonstration of Vegetation Restoration and Management and Utilization of Forest Resources in the Greater Central Asia (Chifeng Site)”, initiated in 2017 and located in Aohan Banner*, provided such demonstration models working with mixed species. For instance, it established 70 hectares of demonstration forest for vegetation restoration in sandy areas, including 30 hectares of demonstration forest mixed with Mongolian scotch pine and Xinjiang poplar, as well 40 hectares of demonstration forest mixed with Mongolian scotch pine and the valuable yellowhorn, which produces a seed that can significantly improve local livelihoods. These new combinations not only bring economic benefits to the region, but also promote ecological forest restoration, combat desertification and improve the soil. To enrich the existing demonstration models and ensure the sustainability of the project outputs of Phase I, a second phase was recommended by the review team following a discussion among stakeholders on the feasibility of a follow-up project and its framework (see http://www.apfnet.cn/en/show-list-1392.html). After the final evaluation of Phase I, a project proposal for Phase II was officially submitted by the Supervisory Agency (Chifeng Forestry and Grasslands Bureau) and Executive Agency (Sanyijing Forest Farm), and approved by APFNet.

Signing ceremony among Chifeng Forestry and Grasslands Bureau, Sanyijing Forest Farm and APFNet. Photo: Liu Chengye
On 27 December 2019, a project agreement signing ceremony was held at the APFNet Secretariat in Beijing, China. Mr Han Ming (Director of Chifeng Forestry and Grasslands Bureau), Mr Chen Mingchuan (Director of Sanyijing Forest Farm) and Dr Lu De (Executive Director of APFNet) attended the event and signed the three-party project agreement, which marks another milestone in the cooperation between APFNet and the two project partners. 

Phase II will demonstrate more mixed forest models to improve forest quality compared to Phase I. The implementation area of Phase II is 230 hectares, which includes the establishment of 72.34 hectares of a semi-arid demonstration forest restoration mixing Mongolian scotch pine with new species such as Siberian elm, winged euonymus, David’s peach and purpleblow maple, building a 10-hectare sand tree species demonstration garden featuring 80 common sand species, improving 38.66 hectares of existing poplar forest by enriching the area with other species and constructing an exhibition room to showcase the sand control and prevention measures of Phase I and other related projects. In addition, monitoring and regular forest management, such as weeding, pruning and watering, will be conducted at both Phase I (about 110 hectares) and Phase II sites. The total budget of the project is USD 1,456,000, of which USD 1,148,000 will be provided by APFNet and USD 308,000 will be contributed in cash and in kind by the Executing Agency and the Supervisory Agency. 

With the Aohan Spirit “There is no choice but to do it well”, under the historical story of the Aohan people combatting desertification, the Executive Agency and Supervisory Agency are striving to achieve all the outputs mentioned and demonstrate a successful model for uniting economic and ecological gains for Greater Central Asia.
 
 
* A banner is a county-level administrative division in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region of China