A group of young environmental activists are changing the landscape in China — quite literally.
Wei Yi, a university student from Shanghai, joined the Roots and Shoots initiative seven years ago. As part of the group, he traveled to the Inner Mongolian desert in a bid to stem desertification.
The student volunteer group hoped to achieve their goal by planting a million trees.
“What impressed me most is that the place we drove to was totally different from the city. There were only two colors there: the blue sky and the yellow earth. There wasn’t a bit of green anywhere, even the houses there seemed devoid of color. They felt lifeless,”Wei recounts his first impression of the region.
Desertification and environmental degradation first gained prominence in public debate in China during the late 1970s.
The government had then launched a reforestation program that focused on 13 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions, buoyed by Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping’s call for building a “Green Great Wall.”
The program covered more than four million square kilometers in total, where sandstorms and soil erosion had led to the expansion of deserts, impacting the lives of nearly 400 million people.
While government assistance has been a key driver of the reforestation effort in China, it is the participation of citizens through initiatives like Roots and Shoots that has kept the momentum going.
Moreover, the fact that the students can gain a first-hand experience of the difference that they are making has helped ensure sustainability of the reforestation effort.
“At the time when we planted trees there, I did not think we could make much of a difference,” Wei said.
“But last October, I went back to the place, and I couldn’t recognize it at all. There’s a massive patch of greenery now, standing amidst the blue and yellow. It gave me a sense of gratification,”he adds.
Over the past 35 years, efforts like these have helped turn 26.47 million hectares of barren land in China into green havens.
In fact, it is estimated that the trees planted under this project, if planted three meters apart, could encircle the globe 2,000 times.
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