China has made remarkable progress in reducing sandstorms in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region by planting more than 9 million hectares of forest in the past two decades, the forestry authority said.
During the period, about 51,000 hectares that had degenerated into sandy land had environmentally recovered, and more than 9.7 million hectares of grassland had been restored, the National Forestry and Grassland Administration said at a recent conference.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei sand sources control project, which the State Council initiated in 2000.
According to the administration, forest coverage in the sand-source regions in Shanxi, Shaanxi and the Inner Mongolia autonomous region rose from 10.59 percent in 2000 to 18.67 percent today.
During the period, the regions' comprehensive vegetation coverage increased from 39.8 to 45.5 percent.
The project resulted in a significant improvement in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region's environment, according to the administration.
The average annual inhalable particle density in Beijing has declined from 162 micrograms per cubic meter 20 years ago to 68 mcg per cu m last year. During the period, sandstorms in the capital have also significantly declined from 13 to two or three per year.
In 2000, Beijing had only 177 days with fairly good air quality. Last year, that increased to 240 days.
The sand source control projects in surrounding regions have improved the environment in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region.
In Youyu county, in northwestern Shanxi province, the greening rate soared dramatically from 0.3 percent in the 1950s to 56 percent last year.
"Thanks to the joint efforts of many local planters, Youyu is turning from a drought-hit sandy land into a green paradise. So far, the county has nearly 113,300 hectares of forests and about 130 million trees," said He Tiancai, vice-governor of Shanxi province.
Youyu's change has helped boost a number of businesses. Shanxi Youyu Tuyuan Industries is one that benefitted from the county's improved environment and ecosystems.
Wang Tao, head of sales at Tuyuan Industries, said the company exports frozen scallions worth $7 million per year to countries including Germany, the United States, Norway and Australia.
According to the administration, in 25 counties in the sand source control project, production value from forestry-related industry rose from 649 million yuan ($95.56 million) in 2000 to more than 4 billion yuan in 2017.
In addition, 28 impoverished counties in the project area had been lifted from poverty by the end of last year.
"Although we've made great achievements in the past decades, the challenges are not negligible. China still has 930 counties threatened by land desertification, covering an area of 17,200 hectares," said Liu Dongsheng, deputy head of the administration.
He said forestry departments will accelerate work on building a sand prevention and control mechanism and motivate enthusiasm from all sectors of society to participate in the efforts.
Furthermore, he said, sand prevention and control should be promoted more scientifically, with different restoration plans made in accordance with local conditions.