China Researchers Find Way To Transform Deserts Into Fertile Land

There's now a way to convert desert climate into an area rich in plant growth. Chinese scientists have come up with a paste that, when mixed with sand, retains all the nutrients needed for crops to thrive in the harshest environments.


May 24 2019, Updated 9:23 a.m. ET

Climate change has resulted in the ongoing desertification throughout China. Land degradation happens at a rate of 1,300 square miles per year, and it’s resulted in village residents having to relocate when their home becomes an arid wasteland. Fortunately, scientists have been hard at work to reverse this trend, and they’ve developed ways to turn patches of desert into fertile land.

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Scientists at Chongqing Jiaotong University have created a paste that’s made from the same substance found in plant cell walls. Made from a sodium carboxymethyl cellulose solution, this creates support and protection for the plants to grow. When the paste is combined with sand in an arid environment, it’s still able to keep water and nutrients for growth.

According to the school’s report, they’ve been working on the experiment since 2013. They determined that there wasn’t much difference between the “soilized” sand they created and natural soil when it comes to “mechanical properties and ecological attributes.” Therefore, they combined layers of sand, gravel, and the “soilized” sand to test out growth. During two periods of harvest each year, they saw crops of corn, potatoes, and other various plants.

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A project in a northern China desert saw positive results in just six months. Flowers and vegetables were growing in nearly 500 acres of sand with the new technology, which essentially makes the land fertile in an extremely hot climate. Later this year, the goal is to restore nearly 500 more acres and over 32,000 acres within the next two years.

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Professor Zhao Chaohua tells The Plant Guide the greatest part about the new paste. They’ve seen success with minimal labor in taking care of it: “According to our calculation, there are over 70 kinds of crops growing here. Many are not planted by us but they just grow themselves.”

The new technology was presented at the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) on September 15th. Over 100 countries participated in the event and set goals to stop desertification by 2030. These scientists’ reforestation efforts hope to reach 50 percent of degraded land over the next three years.

Being able to reverse the trend of desertification will be extremely important as more areas of land will become unusable thanks to rising temperatures. These Chinese researchers have developed a quick way to help accomplish the task.

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