January 25, 2012

Green Wall of China and plans for the Great Green Wall of the Sahara

Wikipedia - The Green Wall of China, also known as the Green Great Wall or Great Green Wall will be a series of human-planted forest strips in the People's Republic of China, designed to hold back the expansion of the Gobi Desert. It is planned to be completed around 2050, at which point it is planned to be 2,800 miles (4,500 km) long. China has seen 3,600 square km (1,390 square miles) of grassland overtaken every year by the Gobi Desert. Each year dust storms blow off as much as 900 square miles (2,000 square km) of topsoil, and the storms are increasing in severity each year. The Green Wall project was begun in 1978 with the proposed end result of raising northern China’s forest cover from 5 to 15 percent and thereby reducing desertification.

As of 2009 China’s planted forest covered more than 500,000 square kilometers (increasing tree cover from 12% to 18%) – the largest artificial forest in the world. However, of the 53,000 hectares planted that year, a quarter died and of the remaining many are dwarf trees, which lack the capacity to protect the soil. In 2008 winter storms destroyed 10% of the new forest stock, causing the World Bank to advise China to focus more on quality rather than quantity in its stock species

Yale University - in an extensive analysis of such “afforestation” efforts published last year in Earth Science Reviews, Beijing Forestry University scientist Shixiong Cao and five co-authors say that on-the-ground surveys have shown that, over time, as many as 85 percent of the plantings fail.

Writing in Nature in September, 2011 Jianchu Xu, senior scientist at the World Agroforestry Centre and a professor at the Kunming Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Science, echoed concerns about the dangers of planting maladapted tree species in China’s arid environments, noting that native perennial grasses, “with their extensive root systems would be better protectors of topsoil.”

“Plantation monocultures harbor little diversity; they provide almost no habitat for the country's many threatened forest species. Plantations generate less leaf litter and other organic inputs than native forests, so soil fauna and flora decrease... Afforestation in water-stressed regions might provide windbreaks, and tree plantations offer some carbon storage. But these benefits come at a high cost to other ecological functions.”

What could work? Going native. Beyond protecting what native ecosystems remain, some research suggests that simply preventing further abuse of degraded ecosystems can allow them to recover.

Chinese ecologist Jiang Gaoming has called for “nurturing the land by the land itself.” In a region of Inner Mongolia called the “Hunshandake sandy land,” his team of researchers has shown that native grasslands will restore themselves in as little as two years if fencing can be installed to eliminate livestock grazing and other human incursions.

One project underway in a region of Southwest China, under a partnership between Conservation International and China’s Center for Nature and Society, could serve as a better model. In a 100,000-square-mile region that includes ecosystems ranging from coniferous and broadleaf forests, to grasslands, wetlands and bamboo groves, the project has already restored more than 12,000 acres using native species.

In what could be a hopeful turn, China’s State Forestry Administration has indicated that it has gotten the message. The nation’s lead forestry agency has begun collaborating on projects aimed specifically at restoring native species. The agency is working with the Climate Community and Biodiversity Alliance (CCBA), whose members include Conservation International, the Nature Conservancy, and the Rainforest Alliance.

One of the first of the proposed projects would reforest more than 10,000 acres of severely degraded former forest lands in five counties in Sichuan province, a mountainous region surrounding the upper reaches of the Yangtze and Daduhe Rivers. The area in general is classified by Chinese environmental agencies as a “biological hotspot” that includes — where it’s still intact — habitat for the giant panda.

Following new standards developed by CCBA, the project will primarily use native species, including Armand pine, China cedar, and local varieties of fir, spruce, poplar, and alder

Sahara Forest Project and the pan Africa Great Green Wall

There has been studies considering the implementation of a Sahara forest

UK Guardian - The building of a pan-African Great Green Wall (GGW) was approved by an international summit this week in the former German capital Bonn in 2011

It would be 15km wide, and up to 8,000km long – a living green wall of trees and bushes, full of birds and other animals. Imagine it just south of the Sahara, from Djibouti in the Horn of Africa in the east, all the way across the continent to Dakar, Senegal, in the west.

The GGW, as conceived by the 11 countries located along the southern border of the Sahara, and their international partners, is aimed at limiting the desertification of the Sahel zone. It will also be a catalyst for a multifaceted international economic and environmental programme.

The Sahel zone is the transition between the Sahara in the north and the African savannas in the south, and includes parts of Burkina Faso, Chad, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Sudan.

The GGW initiative initially involved the planting of a 15km-wide forest belt across the continent, with a band of vegetation as continuous as possible, but rerouted if necessary to skirt around obstacles such as streams, rocky areas and mountains – or to link inhabited areas.

During the meeting in Bonn, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) confirmed its promise to allocate up to $115m to support the construction of the green wall. Other international development institutions also made investment pledges to support building the wall, of up to $3bn.

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