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Print Edition> Business
UPDATED: December 8, 2014 NO. 50 DECEMBER 11, 2014
Green Desert
Inner Mongolia's Hobq Desert creates an oasis of wealth
By Alice Grandserre

Elion persuaded local herdsmen and farmers to lease out their land to the company. Most of them also left their traditional homes to live in the new houses built near the school. Today local residents are key players in the Hobq Desert's industrial chain, being both stakeholders in the desert and partners of Elion.

A HEARTY SMILE: He Gailan, who has worked for Elion Resources for 20 years, is thrilled to talk about the positive impact Wang Wenbiao's project has on her life (FILE)

Gao Maohu, 55, and his wife He Gailan, 49, have been cultivating licorice for Elion for over 20 years. Now their cultivation area exceeds 66 hectares, they are in charge of 100 laborers and their lifestyle has improved. Licorice is valued by the pharmaceutical industry and sells at a high price. "Before, we lived with my mother-in-law in one house. Today, we have two separate houses, a car, and can even afford the latest phones," He said. "In the past, the girls here wanted to marry men who lived outside the desert. Today, the reverse is true: Girls from outside want to marry men from the desert."

An exportable model

According to Gao, the drip irrigation method they use has been borrowed from the Israelis. Elion Resources signed a memorandum of understanding with Israel's Ben Gurion University last year for jointly establishing the Hobq Desert Research Institute in Inner Mongolia.

The company aims to increase this kind of partnership and to involve more private enterprises in its activities. While opening a discussion on investment opportunities in ecological business models at the Eco-civilization Entrepreneurs' Annual Conference, Wang Wenbiao said in his address, "We cannot rely solely on the government and citizens to solve [environmental] problems, we must also rely on companies." This means both Chinese companies and foreign ones.

Earlier, Wang said that Elion acquired new knowledge and managed to create a model of sustainable development through collaboration with countries like Japan, South Korea and the United States.

At a time when desertification is becoming a growing threat worldwide—according to a recent report of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, 169 countries consider themselves affected by the phenomenon—cooperation between countries is the need of the day.

In April, the United Nations Environment Program announced that the Hobq Desert is an ecological economy demonstration zone. Wang said the Hobq could become a training center for foreign scientists, especially those from African countries affected by desertification.

The fertile lands of the Sahel—the transitional zone between the arid Sahara Desert of northern Africa and the belt of humid savannas to the south—have been invaded by sand for decades. Afforestation initiatives already exist in the region, like the Great Green Wall of the Sahara and the Sahel Project, launched by the Pan-African Agency of the Great Green Wall. Created in 2010 under the auspices of the African Union and the Community of Sahel-Saharan States, the agency includes 11 African countries aiming to create a 15-km wide transcontinental forest belt running from Dakar to Djibouti. Wang does not rule out the prospect of exporting the Hobq Model internationally one day.

The author is a former contributor to ChinAfrica magazine 

Email us at: yushujun@bjreview.com

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