Seabuckthorn bucks runoff

A massive first-time planting of seabuckthorn, a drought-tolerant plant, should bring environmentally urgent greenery to thousands of barren ravines and steep slopes in northern China's most eroded areas.

In the next 10 to 15 years, a record 5 million hectares of the drought-resistant plant will take root in the arid or semi-arid lands in North, Northwest and Northeast China. Its intricate root system, growing up to 10 metres underground, should bring erosion under control, a leading water resources official announced over the weekend.

The massive sowing of seabuckthorn will accelerate China's decades of fighting worsening water and soil erosion, which is the top environmental issue in a third of the country. Sediment build-up has been blamed for catastrophic deluges along the lower reaches of the Yellow River.

Seabuckthorn should expedite reforestation efforts that have done little good so far. Zhang Jiyao, vice-minister of water resources, said high forest and grass planted to date have not created proper forests.

Under the replanting plan, 3.9 million hectares of seabuckthorn, or 78 per cent of the total, will be seeded in the sandstone areas along the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River.

The planting project should reduce sediment washed into the river by 170 million tons a year. More than 80 per cent of the sediment is coarse earth in the low country, according to the latest reports released yesterday by Zhang's ministry.

Clusters of the seabuckthorn would also blanket ravines on the Loess Plateau, the world's worst eroded area, preventing an estimated 210 million tons of silt from being washed into flood-prone sections of the upper and middle reaches of the Yellow River. This river is the world's muddiest.

Meanwhile, about 90 million tons of silt that once ran into the Haihe, Songhua and Liaohe rivers in North and Northeast China will be held back by the balance of the seabuckthorn planting. It will cover 1.17 million hectares, or 23 per cent of the nation's total replanting area.

Without a fix, China is up one big muddy creek.

"The problem will not only threaten the existence of the Chinese nation and its development today but also entail untold troubles for the following generations, with more fertile soil washed away and only coarse sediment either left behind or absorbed by rivers," Zhang warned.

Date: 12/07/1999

Author: FENG YUNCHAO, China Daily staff

Copyright? by China Daily

Plant to stop erosion, poverty

Premier Zhu Rongji's call for returning North and Northwest China's low-yield farmland into grassland or forests has turned into a large-scale re-seeding effort on a major plateau, said officials with the Ministry of Water Resources.

The effort is a monolithic planting of seabuckthorn, a plant that should stop erosion as well as bolster local economies.

During a recent inspection tour in Northwest China, the premier urged towns to remove livestock and fuel extraction from hillsides and reforest them. This conversion would protect the region from erosion.

Since 1985, China has controlled soil erosion on 32,000 square kilometres in Shanxi and Shaanxi provinces and the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. They make up part of the Loess Plateau, which has seen dramatic erosion.

The 32,000 square kilometres are 7.1 per cent of the total Loess Plateau. Yet its annual discharge accounts for 62 per cent of the sediments absorbed by the Yellow River, which is the world's muddiest waterway, said Tai Yuanlin, director of China Administration Centre of Seabuckthorn Development.

China now has enough grain to feed rural people who have been plunged into chronic poverty by erosion in the areas. Zhu has suggested converting the land to stop further erosion.

The premier made it clear that local governments should have used State grain surpluses as relief for the rural poor and to encourage them to adopt biological erosion-control measures instead of trying to grow grain in poor soil.

The decade-old planting of seabuckthorn has helped both the soil and the economy.

Ranchers can use the leaves and branches of naturally occurring seabuckthorn to feed livestock. The plant can also improve soil fertility by fixing the nitrogen level. Its berries, seeds and leaves contain a variety of abundant bio-active substances useful as a nutrient and a pharmaceutical.

Following a decade-long trial seeding, seabuckthorn has proven effective in preventing coarse sediments from moving from the Loess Plateau into the Yellow River.

Date: 12/07/1999

Author: LIANG CHAO, China Daily staff

Copyright? by China Daily