Villagers living along the flood-prone Yangtze riverbank are trying their best to work out a way of sustainable living. Ming Yeung has a ring-side view.
Sichuan, dubbed Land of Abundance, has pledged to protect the natural environment and reduce waste in the province despite tremendous difficulties.
Located in southwest China, embracing the eastern part of Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and the Sichuan Basin, Sichuan's rich forest reserve is not only home to giant pandas, but over 100,000 species of higher plants, 532 species of birds, and many rare wild animals such as golden monkey, white-lipped deer and gnu.
However, in the past years, Sichuan has seen massive destruction and loss of lives owing to severe flooding. In the summer of 1998, the worst flooding of the Yangtze River to ravage China since 1954, killed about 10,000 people and left 240 millions affected. The disaster devastated 64 million hectares of farmland, 4.8 million hectares of cultivated land of crops, and destroyed 5.6 million homes. Deforestation has taken a toll on the area. Both wildlife and local people dependant on forest produce for their livelihoods are increasingly at risk.
To minimize the damage, then premier Zhu Rongji began an extensive reforestation project by employing former loggers as tree planters with a view to increasing the forest cover. Along with other reforestation programs, notably the so-called "Great Green Wall" in the northwest, these programs have helped increase the mainland's overall forest cover from 16 percent to over 20 percent of its total land area.
About 36 percent of land in Sichuan is forested in 2014, and will increase by 3 percent by 2020 (roughly 200 million hectares). The next target is to plant trees in arid areas and increase forest resources, according to Guo Hongying, an expert from the Forestry Department of Sichuan province.
A majority of the planters live in poverty. The forestry department is faced with the big challenge to help them earn a livelihood by planting trees, Guo says.
"Not all villagers are environment activists unless their livelihood is firmly secured," she comments. "These villagers live in deep forest areas but how can we turn natural resources into a kind of income?" Combining tourism with environment protection has proved to be an effective tool to cater to different needs.
Importing and distributing new and suitable strains of trees could take years and end up failing to meet the target as government policies keep changing.
"Some policies are not favorable to forestry," Guo reckons. "Procurement of saplings, for instance, has to go through a vendor system whose sole requirement is the lowest price. This triggers a mismatch of supplied and needed saplings and hence a great deal of money and time is wasted."
A massive scale of reforestation project has been carried out since the early 1950s in Yuping Mountain, Hongya county, Meishan city. Fifty years of endless reforestation effort has successfully turned Yuping Mountain into a rich man-made forest. A resort was built in the area - a favorite for weekend getaways.
There is a forest cover of over 85 percent in Hongya county, of which 803,000 acres are natural forest and 185,000 acres are man-made. Organic and poultry farming at the Hongya Forest Farm has subsequently increased workers' income.
Make the offenders pay
Zhang Shiqiu, professor, College of Environmental Sciences and Engineering, Peking University, acknowledges the importance to link the fight against pollution to economic growth.
"Environment protection is not only a matter of growth but also a matter of development and a coalition of both," Zhang stressed, adding that economic growth does not necessarily damage the natural environment, or vice versa.
Speaking at the 2015 Green China International Forum held in Chengdu, Sichuan province, on Sept 20, Zhang pointed out that since pollution would definitely continue to cause health hazards, the central government ought to be concerned about providing a greener environment and ensuring food safety.
And changes will not just come from movements initiated by the public but a policy implemented nationwide. A comprehensive legal framework and strict enforcement is vital to raise people's awareness in environment protection, Zhang avers.
"Make everyone who damages the environment liable and shoulder their responsibility, and the government should make better use of resources in civil society," she continued.
Apart from reforestation programs, villages all over Sichuan are doing their best to reduce water pollution by implementing source separation of farm waste in each household.
In Danleng county's Meiwan village, where many people make a living from the fruits they grow and sell, a central waste processing system is in place since 2011.
Villagers are required to process household waste into different categories: Organic waste, such as rotten fruits, is put in a methane pond. Recyclables can be sold, while construction waste and un-recyclables are dumped in a nearby trash collection point.
The initial processing is done by villagers, followed by further classification by contractors. The amount of waste has been reduced by almost 80 percent.
Pig and poultry farms were major sources of water pollution in the past. The province's annual environment bulletin in 2014 showed that its five major rivers - part of the Yangtze, along with Jinsha, Minjiang, Tuojiang and Jiangling - were polluted.
Thirteen percent of these five major rivers have suffered pollution so severe that the water is not fit to drink, nor can it be used for irrigation, the bulletin said.
The city invested 250 million yuan in 2014 to reduce sources of water pollution, including from livestock breeding farms in 194 villages. More than 100 large poultry farms have improved their waste processing facilities to make full use of the manure they produce.
In Danleng county's Longhu village lives a pig farmer surnamed Chen who raises 400 to 500 pigs a year. His family earns at least 50,000 yuan from selling pigs a year. Together with other incomes from growing grapes and tangerines, the family has led a pretty comfortable life. And they also enjoy the fresh air and clean environment.
The methane gas is used as household fuel, and pig urine an organic fertilizer used in the fruit orchard. Any manure left over is collected for centralized processing, instead of piling up in the yard.
The series of policies not only save 88 percent of the local government's annual waste handling expenditure, but also raise villagers' awareness of environment protection. "We need to take good care of our own village," says a villager.
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