In Mongolia, Nomads Fight a Different Enemy: Advancing Desert

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In Mongolia, Nomads Fight a Different Enemy: Advancing Desert

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As the threat of desertification grows higher, a nomadic tribesman in Inner Mongolia is leading his community in their fight against the menace.

Friday, June 1, 2012 - 2:20pm
Bao Yongxin is a driven man. The 43-year old farmer in Aohan of Inner Mongolia wants one thing above anything else, and that is to contribute to helping the desert county and it’s half a million plus population to prosper. But prosperity will never come unless his community can repel the biggest peril snapping at their land: the advancing desert. Born and raised in a desert village where lives depend on the resources of the farms, Yongxin has been feverishly fighting that peril for nearly two decades, and is now recognized as a warrior against desertification.
As nomads, Yongxin’s family lived off raising cattle and subsistence farming, growing wheat and corn. While the family owned enough land to meet their need, there was one problem: the sand, blown in by the frequent dust storms from the advancing deserts, was continuously piling up in their farms, as well as at their homes. In the early nineties, the storms got very severe and as a result, farming became almost impossible. Also, the dust deposit kept getting higher each season. As a result, the family was forced to abandon their home and move into a new house. “In the past 17 years, we have changed our home three years.” says Bao. Things then came to a point where the farmer had but two choices: abandon their village altogether and migrate to the nearby city, or do something to stop the menace of desertification.

The method Bao adopted is a mix of two techniques: sand dune checks and the mulch. In the first one, tiny squares are made with in the sand with dry straw planted around them. Once the square of check is created, a sapling – usually a drought-resistant variety - is planted in the middle of it. Bao Yongxin has planted at least 3 varieties of them: ‘Caragana’, ‘Yellow willow’ and ‘Artimesia’. The last one – Artemesia – is known as the ‘pioneer grass’ as it dies after about a year, allowing other plants to grow. The second technique is known as the Mulch in which tiny beds of straw are laid on the sand using as a covering.

According to Mansour N’Diaye, Chief of Cabinet, United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), both these techniques are used to retain moisture in the soil, suppress weeds and keep the sand cool. Organic mulches also help improve the soil’s fertility, as they decompose, and help increase the growth of the sapling planted. The techniques are now also being used by desert dwellers in Iran and in Namib and Kalahari deserts in Africa. “It is extremely important to combat the desertification and save the land that is our main basket of bread,’”says N’Diaye.

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Ms Komila Nabiyeva
UNCCD secretariat
+(49) 228 815 2830
Keywords: Environment & Climate Change | Mongolia | UNCCD | Zero Net Land Degradation | desertification