BEIJING, June 17 (Xinhua) -- China has made great progress in the fight against desertification in the past few years, with shrinking degraded land and reduced poverty in desertified areas.
Land degradation in China has lessened in recent years, Zhang Jianlong, head of the State Forestry Administration, told Xinhua ahead of the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought, which falls on June 17 each year.
The area of desertified land in the country shrank by an annual average of 1,980 square km in the 2010-2014 period, a sharper decline than 1,717 square km for the 2005-2009 period and 1,283 square km for 2000-2004.
That was a reversal from the years before 2000, when desertified land was increasing, he said.
One result of the change can be felt in the capital city Beijing, which used to be plagued by sandstorms but has seen much less frequent occurrences.
Only two to three sandstorms were seen each year for the past two years, compared with over 13 around the year 2000, according to official data released last June.
China wants to rehabilitate 10 million hectares of desertified land in the 2016-2020 period, turning more than half of the country's reclaimable deserts into green land.
To achieve that goal, the country must increase forest coverage to 23 percent by 2020 from 21.7 percent at the end of 2015, though the rate is still below the world average level of around 30 percent.
One of the largest forest projects is the Three-North Shelterbelt Forest Program. Launched in 1978 and expected to be completed by 2050, it consists of afforestation in northwest, north and northeast China.
By 2015, the project has seen nearly 30 million hectares of forests planted and preserved, Zhang said.
The greening also produced economic benefits. Grain output per hectare of farmland in the Three-North region has increased to 5,310 kg currently from 1,770 kg at the beginning of the project.
Some 6.7 million hectares of trees with economic value have been planted in the region, with around 15 million local people having shaken off poverty by growing orchards.
To a large extent, China's fight against desertification overlaps with its effort to reduce poverty, as about 35 percent of the poverty stricken counties are in desertified areas.
Zhang described the campaigns to address desertification and poverty as "twin brothers," saying only effective control of land degradation can bring an end to poverty while poor living conditions make it harder to reverse desertification.
The government views desertified areas as a priority in poverty reduction, engaging local people in environmental projects and developing specialty industries to help lift them out of poverty.