China faces desertification

The World

This village is near the border with Inner Mongolia. When sanddunes moved in decades ago, most people left. This farmer who has lived here his whole life says there’s barely any rain in this area now at all. Lack of water is a common lament throughout much of northern China. Decades of logging forests and overusing water has caused China’s deserts to expand by 800 square miles each year, which means there’s less water to evaporate and return as rain. This is one of China’s poorest and driest regions but it has one thing going for it, the Yellow River. This researcher says we’re doing our best to protect the Yellow River, and without the river there would be nothing in the region. But the Yellow River flows sluggishly now and some of the river has been ciphered off for use in the south, for use in irrigating rice fields. But some Chinese economists say that has caused the rice fields to be overly salty. All this has led to a vicious cycle: farmers have to use more fertilizer to get a crop out of bad soil and in Ningxia they use five times more fertilizer to get half the crop yield. That fertilizer in turn pollutes the water so you have to dig deeper to get clean drinking water around here. And yet, Ningxia has big plans. Ningxia’s capital is booming, as are the industrial zones near the capital. That might be good news for farmers, who need more water. This researcher says farmers, however, make more money by making rice so that’s what most farmers will farm.

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