Nature Creates Deserts Too
Addressing Desertification in China
As LIN XU WALKED OUT of the provincial office building to start his long bus ride home, he was preoccupied with worry. At the next meeting he and others would discuss a proposed government plan for addressing desertification in the Sanjiangyuan. Two years earlier he had left his job as assistant manager of a small factory outside Beijing to move back to his native Qinghai Province because his parents were old and needed him. His father was a herder on the Tibetan plateau and could no longer travel the long distances required to find winter forage for his herd. Neither of his parents wanted to leave Qinghai, and he was the only son, so it was his job to take care of them. He had not even tried to convince them to come live with him; his two-room apartment in the city was too small for them and Lin's own family, and they would have been miserable in the middle of the industrial area. So he had moved his wife and son to his parents' village and again become a herder, as he had been before he left home.
Last year he had been chosen to represent a group of local villages at a meeting that was part of the government's attempt to assess the agricultural environment in northwestern China. At that meeting Lin had described the desertification as racing, not creeping, across his area of Qinghai. This rapid desertification forced the herders to leave their contracted allotments in the wintertime—because the allotments no longer had enough grasses to support the herds—and move the herds into other counties; there had even been sporadic violence. He recognized that this process only advanced the desertification, both by overgrazing of the areas not yet desertified and by