Remediation returns green pastures

A small village on the Qinghai Plateau is reaping the rewards of looking after the environment, which has in turn enriched the lives of local residents.

Geduo village in Maqen county, which lies at an altitude of 4,200 meters, had flourished for years until its pastures suffered severe degradation from overgrazing, made worse by the effects of climate change.

For some time before the year 2000, there was no vegetation on over 70 percent of the village's 16,800-hectare pastureland, jeopardizing the incomes made from the herding on which many villagers depended to make a living.

In the years since, thanks to persistent efforts, the situation has been reversed and prosperity has returned.

When Tobten was elected as Geduo's Party chief in 2000, he made the decision to try to remediate the degraded pastures by planting grass.

"If there is no grass for the sheep and cows, we will have hardly anything to look forward to," Tobten said, explaining his decision.

At first, the 70-year-old's efforts failed and none of the seeds he scattered on a small plot sprouted. But he persisted and his experiments eventually paid off when he found that highland oat grass could be adapted to local conditions.

In 2012, Tobten sold most of his livestock for the money needed to plant the grass on a 90-hectare plot. Following this successful attempt, he decided to establish a cooperative a year later to promote the planting of forage grass, and his initiative soon won the support of many villagers.

However, significant changes in reversing the deterioration to the village's pastures only happened after 2013, when the cooperative received 1.5 million yuan ($217,000) in funding from the Maqen poverty alleviation and development bureau to build a center for forage grass planting.

The cooperative was able to buy agricultural machinery like tractors, mowers and banders, and villagers joined the cooperative as shareholders, adding their own pastures.

The cooperative surpassed expectations and has not only helped remediate degraded pastureland, but has also brought economic benefits.

"We sell the forage grass and then distribute dividends to the villagers," Tobten said, adding that aside from the dividends, some villagers can make roughly 20,000 yuan a year from working in the cooperative.

More than 60 percent of Geduo village's degraded land has been remediated, according to Tobten.

According to Maqen's bureau of natural resources, forestry and grassland, the county, which is located in the Sanjiangyuan area of Qinghai, almost 16,000 hectares of degraded pasture were remediated in 2022.

Zhu Zhengjia, head of the bureau, said the Maqen government will continue in its efforts to conserve and remediate areas of environmental importance, as it works to follow the lead of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China.

The report to the congress that was held last October stressed "harmony between humanity and nature" as a major feature of China's modernization.

"We should remember to maintain harmony between humanity and nature when planning our development," the report said.