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March 22, 2012 1:10 PM   Subscribe

The Loess Plateau in China’s Northwest is home to more than 50 million people. Centuries of overuse led to one of the highest erosion rates in the world and widespread poverty. Two projects (results) set out to restore the Loess Plateau.

This documentary suggests that it is possible to rehabilitate large-scale damaged ecosystems, to restore ecosystem functions in areas where they have been lost, to fundamentally improve the lives of people who have been trapped in poverty for generations and to sequester carbon naturally.

Here speaking at the 20th Richard Jones Memorial Lecture 2011, John D. Liu compares ecosystem function with economic production of wealth 'generated' by production and consumption of goods and services, suggesting a fundamental rethinking of the human economy, he looks back on his career, and discusses his involvement with various environmental restoration projects seeking to return power to the hands of people locally, empowerment which facilitates changes that have global impacts.
posted by infinite intimation (7 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

Background Information:
The project area covers 15,600 square km of land in nine tributary watersheds of the Yellow River on the Loess Plateau in Shanxi, Shaanxi, and Gansu Provinces, and the Autonomous Region of Inner Mongolia, China.

The Loess Plateau covers an area of some 640,000 sq. km in the upper and middle parts of the drainage basin of the Yellow River. Before the project, most of the project area consisted of severely degraded and barren land and low productivity slope land. The loess soil has good agricultural properties, but drought is a major constraint in crop production. Slope lands in the Loess Plateau produce extremely high levels of sediment runoff per unit area. Broad flat terraces for crops and narrow terraces for trees and shrubs are essential for profitable use of lands in the project areas. Per capita incomes in the project area are mostly below the poverty line.

The objective of the project is to help achieve sustainable development in the Loess Plateau by increasing agricultural production and incomes, and improving ecological conditions in tributary watersheds of the Yellow River, through: (a) the introduction of more efficient and sustainable uses of land and water resources; and (b) reducing erosion and sediment flow into the Yellow River. The project finances the integrated planning and treatment of small watersheds. The project creates high-yielding, level farmland for production of field crops and orchards and thereby replaces areas devoted to crops on erodible slope lands, and (b) plants the slope lands to a range of trees, shrubs and grasses for the production of fuel, timber and fodder. These measures increase per hectare productivity on the improved farmland, raise overall output and incomes, and have positive ecological impact. Comprehensive and integrated planning of individual watersheds in close consultation with the beneficiaries in the villages is a key aspect of the project.
This paper from February 2012 [PLOS PDF] quantitatively evaluates the effects of Grain to Green Program (GTGP) implementation on ecosystem services in the Loess Plateau region (Figure 1)

Prior to the GTGP implementation, the Loess Plateau was dominated by grasslands and farmlands. Between 2000 and 2008 the land cover patterns of the Loess Plateau changed remarkably. Woodland, grassland and residential land cover increased by 4.9%, 6.6% and 8.5%, respectively. Farmland decreased by 10.8% and desertification increased slightly, by 0.3% (Figure 2)

The increases in grassland and woodland were distributed along a northeast to southwest land strip (Figure 3).

The regional climate condition of the Loess Plateau region has exhibited a warming and drying trend. This climate trend was revealed from the analysis of time series data between 1951 and 2008, obtained from 85 weather stations located in the Loess Plateau region (Figure 4). Precipitation was found to decrease annually by an average of 0.97 mm and temperature was found to increase annually by an average of 0.02°C.

Regional water yield decreased after the implementation of the GTGP. Over half of the study area (northeast to southwest of the Loess Plateau) experienced a decrease in runoff (2–37 mm/year) with an average 10.3 mm/year decrease in runoff across the whole Loess Plateau over the 2002–2008 period (Figure 5)

Soil conservation in the Loess Plateau, represented as a decrease in soil erosion, has improved since 2000 as a result of vegetation restoration (Figure 6).

The spatial variation of carbon sequestration in the Loess Plateau is shown in Figure 7.

The time and rate of the gross production change appeared to occur later and more slowly than the grain productivity change (Figure 8). Actual grain production increased across the whole of the Loess Plateau at a rate of 18% between 2000 and 2008.

Table 1. Rainfall erosivity and soil retention characteristics in the Loess Plateau region from 2000 to 2008.

Table 2. Area of cropland converted to forest (grassland) and the carbon sequestration by vegetation, soil and ecosystems in Loess Plateau between 2000 and 2008.

posted by infinite intimation at 1:10 PM on March 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

reminiscent of Bethselamin, sort of...
posted by oonh at 1:20 PM on March 22, 2012

Hmm.. I read Maoist policy greatly damaged the Loess, and ever since the policy has been mis guided, planting the wrong kinds of trees and not engaging locals in ownership. The Chinese are notorious for centralized colossus scale mistakes. I hope that is changing.
posted by stbalbach at 1:34 PM on March 22, 2012

Interesting, if somewhat dense (in terms of info) post.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:04 PM on March 22, 2012

Thanks for this, will read with interest. I visited Yan'an about ten years ago to write an article about the implementation of new state anti-poverty measures. It was the third year of an ongoing drought and things were pretty desperate in some of the communities. The projects most touted then were shed-rearing of goats and greenhouse market gardening of out-of-season produce, both of which were good cash earners but pretty stressful on the scare water supply.
As an aside, one of my favourite post-49 novels is a sweeping epic of life on the loess plateau, and it's just been made into a film (not see it yet and reviews seem mixed).
posted by Abiezer at 6:23 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Wow! It's nice to get some good news for once. Thanks for the post.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 12:25 AM on March 23, 2012

stbalbach: "Hmm.. I read Maoist policy greatly damaged the Loess"

I had understood the damage to long predate Mao.
posted by wierdo at 12:30 PM on March 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

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