Charity project turns Tibetan desert green

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“This desolate area where green wheatgrass seeds were sown just three months ago is now alive with color. You can hardly imagine my pride, wrote Chen Juanling, general manager of public relations and communications for Garan Group, on WeChat.

Last month, Chen and her partners at the Ring Foundation (known officially as the China Environmental Protection Foundation) marked five years of working together on a charity project in Tibet. Situated 4,000 meters above sea level, the group has been working in the autonomous region’s Xigaze County, in the small village of Gangxi.

Chen has good reason to feel proud. Formerly a barren desert, the area is now covered in 1,500 acres of green wheatgrass.

In the past five years, Chen and her team have flown from Shanghai to Tibet two or three times a year, although she says it can be an uncomfortable experience. “You have to experience the discomfort for yourself,” she said, alluding to the altitude sickness that many visitors suffer from. Every time she visits, Chen needs a hypodermic injection or an IV drip to adjust to the plateau’s rarified air.

Gangxi was selected for the grass-planting project following a government call to focus on development and ecology in the area. “Every March, we start selecting uncultivated land. By May, the seeds are being sown. By August, we start to see growth which lasts right up until October when the pasture is harvested and packed up.”


‘Public welfare chains’ for rural revitalization

In 2016, the Ring Foundation and Natural Hall, a brand under the Garan Group, jointly established the Natural Hall Himalaya Charity Fund to initiate grass-planting projects in the Himalayas.

The project has not simply played an important role in improving the local environment, it has helped farmers and herders master more practical skills by teaching them scientific concepts and methods of planting and management. It has also helped combat the problem of securing feed inputs for cattle and sheep.

“In these grass-growing public welfare programs, the government provides land, public welfare organizations and enterprises invest money, scientific research departments supply technology, and local villagers provide labor. Grassland revenues are returned to the villagers. This forms a complete service or ‘public welfare chain’ to support people’s livelihoods, welfare and rural revitalization,” said Fang Zhi, deputy secretary-general of the Ring Foundation, in an interview with The Charity Times.

According to Li Yongsheng from the Tibet Plateau Grassland Engineering Technology Research Center, Lazi County is the gateway to western Tibet. From the perspective of scientific research, the implementation of this project has identified novel concerns and provided a new research direction for dry farming research. From the point of view of production, the project is laying a solid foundation for the optimization and modification of the local industrial structure in Gangxi.


Grasslands can help achieve prosperity

Extensive grasslands are not just the basis for developing animal husbandry, they also help safeguard prosperity for local residents. The relative scarcity of natural grassland areas is the result of the plateau’s harsh climatic conditions, meaning that artificial grasslands are a key component of a resource-saving and environment-friendly development model.

Artificial grasslands can increase the yield and quality of pastures; they can also ease the trade-off between preserving natural grasslands and keeping livestock. At the same time, they play an important role in preserving soil quality, groundwater levels, and the ecosystems of the existing grassland.

“In the past few years, we have worked with the National Agricultural and Animal Husbandry Investment Fund to partner with local farm cooperatives in Aima Township, Nanmulin County. We have mobilized 7,104 people from 1,319 households in eight surrounding administrative villages to plant artificial grass. Local herdsmen now have an annual per capita income exceeding 13,000 yuan ($2014),” said Fang Zhi.

Chen Juanling is clear about the benefits of the project. “The 3.66 million square meters of green wheatgrass we’ve planted has helped promote the strategy of rural revitalization and has contributed to the realization of common prosperity,” she said, promising that the project would continue.