Greener hills from the Wuqi Central Red Army Long March Victory Memorial Park Greener hills from the Wuqi Central Red Army Long March Victory Memorial Park
Oct 04, 2019

Re-siphoning life through a green miracle

On a balmy Chinese summer day in late June, I was inhaling fresh, mountain air in Wuqi county of Yan’an in Shaanxi province. It was pure bliss after months of Beijing smog. I was suddenly struck how similar it felt to the cool, central hills of Sri Lanka.

Being the nerdy tourist doing pre-tour background reading, Yan'an already impressed me as a living tale of history, culture and resilience. What I had no idea was how impressive it actually was.

According to the Shaanxi provincial government, the region finally shed the ‘poor’ label after decades, as its final two impoverished counties shook off poverty in May 2019.

According to China Daily, authorities have poured an investment of 6.25 billion yuan ($920 million) into Yan'an over the past four years. This led to an improved environment and infrastructure, a booming agricultural economy, increasingly affordable education and healthcare and multiple career choices, breathing new life into the city.

Greenery along the roads leading up to Wuqi countyReShiping1 670px 19 10 04

But, perhaps my strongest impression of Yan'an struck in Wuqi county. Wuqi demonstrates not just only sustainable agriculture but also how farmland has been returned to forestry. For decades, the yellow, barren hills yielded little. Heavy soil erosion and over usage of already infertile land gave no relief to the farmers, forever trapping them in poverty. However, after the program to transform farmland to forest kicked off in 1998, life has seeped back to the landscape, slowly transforming them to lush, green mountains. With the widening forest cover, soil erosion dropped dramatically, decreasing sedimentation of the Yellow river; eventually leading to cleaner water and higher crop yields.

Sri Lanka - the pearl of the Indian Ocean, hosts a range of climates. Local economy relies heavily on agriculture. Cultures are diverse and rich, but for farmers, harsh conditions and poverty are common woes. Also, environmental issues including increasing deforestation, pollution and diminishing water sources add to the vicious cycle.

According to Agriculture expert and researcher of the Peradeniya University in Sri Lanka - Dr. Eranga M. Wimalasiri, around 51% of the country's land is used for agricultural purposes while 25% are forest areas. A significant portion of the remaining quarter is barren, degraded or rocky and unusable.According to him, most of the paddy and other field crops are located in the Dry and Intermediate Zones of Sri Lanka. However, when considering the region as a whole, agricultural productivity and per capita net profit are low.When looking at the past - present photo comparisons of the Wuqi hills, I wondered what such a positive change would mean in Sri Lanka. Unlike in China, conservation efforts in Sri Lanka are mostly initiated by volunteers and environmentalists while it is widely felt that authorities could do more to cement these efforts.

Greener hills from the Wuqi Central Red Army Long March Victory Memorial ParkReShiping2 670px 19 10 04

Elaborating, Dr. Wimalasiri said, “Reforestation can increase soil fertility and biodiversity while also alleviating poverty as proven in several countries like in Yan’an in China. In Sri Lanka, land is a limited resource and increasing productivity of degraded land is vital to sustain the increasing population. Also, it would enhance the Carbon dioxide balance, create cooler temperatures and help mitigate climate change - which has become a key concern in the country”.

However, in all fairness, the economy and culture of Sri Lanka is different from Yan’an and therefore, customized poverty alleviation strategies are required. Results too, would require time. However, during a visit to Sri Lanka on Feb. 2019, World Bank Vice President South Asia Region, Dr. Hartwig Schafer had lauded the island’s efforts to alleviate rural poverty.Reforestation can be successfully applied to the island’s degraded areas. “One major constraint is the lack of data on land degradation and soil erosion. Quantifying erosion levels is also necessary,” he added.

The island isn’t without its success stories however. Sri Lanka is the birthplace of Analog forestry – a process that considers the process of forest formation and the functioning of forest services to be critical in establishing a ustainable ecosystem. The world’s first Analog forest was initiated in Belipola, located in the Uva province, in partnership with International Analog Forestry Network. Today, the site has been renamed as the ‘Belipola Arboretum’ and is a thriving Bed & Breakfast venture for nature lovers.

- Shanika Jayasekara

(China Investment Magazine)