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UPDATED: July 2, 2012 NO. 27 JULY 5, 2012
Wonders Out of Stone Cracks
Guizhou Province has explored quite a few efficient ways to deal with stony desertification
By Yuan Yuan

HERDING IN MOUNTAINS: Goat rearing prospers in stony desertification-affected Qinglong County in Guizhou Province (YUAN YUAN)

Located in the southwest of China, Guizhou Province is at the center of the country's karst regions. Jagged mountains of limestone and other soft minerals spanning the unique scenery in the province used to be covered with lush greenery, but due to many years of erosion and exhaustive exploitation, many of these areas have gradually become nothing but barren stone.

From 1978 to 2005, stony deserts in southwest China's karst regions expanded. They have especially hampered economic development for ethnic minorities in Guizhou.

According to statistics from the State Forestry Administration, Guizhou is the province most severely affected by stony desertification in China. In 2005, the areas affected by stony desertification in Guizhou reached 33,100 square km, 18.8 percent of its total territory, which accounted for 26 percent of the country's total.

Fighting stony desertification tops the agenda of local authorities and is a national priority as well. In 2008, the State Council approved a plan to combat desertification of karst regions in eight southern and southwestern provincial-level regions by increasing investment in environmental improvement and allocating special funds.

By March 2012, 6,615 square km of stony deserts in Guizhou had been under control and on their way to ecological recovery thanks to the efforts of local governments.

Grass and goat

Peng Zhujiang, a 40-year-old villager in Qinglong County in Guizhou's Qianxinan Buyi and Miao Autonomous Prefecture, herds goats to the grassland in the mountains every day with his wife. Although they are munching on grass, the goats leave their roots untouched, preventing soil erosion.

"Villagers used to grow corn for a living, but we didn't get a good enough yield on the land and could harvest nothing during years of severe drought," Peng said.

In the 1990s, due to over-farming and deforestation, this area had almost become a wasteland. According to Peng, the average annual household income of the village in those years was about 10,000 yuan ($1,572).

In 2008, with financial and technical help from the local government, Peng started to raise goats. At the time, the local government had for years been encouraging farmers to give up growing corn and instead engage in goat rearing. In 2000, in order to involve more villagers in a trial program, a special institution was set up in Qinglong and the local government invested 100 million yuan ($15.72 million) in the program.

"At the very beginning, it is very hard to persuade villagers to plant grass for goats to graze," said Zhang Daquan, a local official in charge of combating stony desertification. "But the mountains took on a new look several years after we planted grass on the deserted area. The small number of villagers who participated in the program earlier earned at least three times of what they earned before. Now, almost no villagers grow corn."

Before 2000, there were around 2,600 goats in Qinglong. Now, the number is up to 420,000. Zhang revealed that the grass seeds and goats were all imported from New Zealand. "It is a win-win situation. The yearly income of the villagers can increase by three to five times on average, and the vast amount of grass can stop the trend of stony desertification as well," Zhang said.

A lamb processing business chain is also on the horizon. In August, a mutton packing plant is scheduled to start operation in Qinglong. The facility, jointly funded by Chinese and New Zealand businesses, has a maximum annual processing capacity of 1.2 million lambs.

"Actually the lamb is in great demand already," said Zhang. "Marketing is not a problem at all. Our mutton tastes pretty good and sells at a high price. Dealers always wait in line to purchase our lamb."

The grass-and-goat strategy, known as the Qinglong Model, has been spread to other places with the same geographical conditions.

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