Three-North Shelter Forest Program

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The Three-North Shelter Forest Program (simplified Chinese :三北防护林; traditional Chinese :三北防護林; pinyin :Sānběi Fánghùlín), also known as the Three-North Shelterbelt Program,Green Great Wall or Great Green Wall, is a series of human-planted windbreaking forest strips (shelterbelts) in China, designed to hold back the expansion of the Gobi Desert, [1] and provide timber to the local population. [2] The program started in 1978, and is planned to be completed around 2050, [3] at which point it will be 4,500 kilometres (2,800 mi) long.


The project's name indicates that it is to be carried out in all three of the northern regions: the North, the Northeast and the Northwest. [4] This project has historical precedences dating back to before the Common Era. However, in premodern periods, government sponsored afforestation projects along the historical frontier regions were mostly for military fortification. [5]

Effects of the Gobi Desert

Map of China and the Gobi desert Gobi desert en.jpg
Map of China and the Gobi desert

China has seen 3,600 km2 (1,400 sq mi) of grassland overtaken every year by the Gobi Desert. [6] Each year, dust storms blow off as much as 2,000 km2 (800 sq mi) of topsoil, and the storms are increasing in severity each year. These storms also have serious agricultural effects for other nearby countries, such as Japan, North Korea, and South Korea. [7] The Green Wall project was begun in 1978, with the proposed end result of raising northern China's forest cover from 5 to 15 percent, [8] thereby reducing desertification.

Global movement of dust from an Asian dust storm Global movement of dust from an Asian dust storm animation.gif
Global movement of dust from an Asian dust storm

Methodology and progress

The fourth and most recent phase[ when? ] of the project, started in 2003, has two parts: the use of aerial seeding to cover wide swathes of land where the soil is less arid, and the offering of cash incentives to farmers to plant trees and shrubs in areas that are more arid. [9] A $1.2 billion oversight system (including mapping and surveillance databases) is also to be implemented. [9] The "wall" will have a belt with sand-tolerant vegetation arranged in checkerboard patterns to stabilize the sand dunes. A gravel platform will be next to the vegetation to hold down sand and encourage a soil crust to form. [9] The trees should also serve as a windbreak from dust storms.

Measuring success

As of 2009, China's planted forest covered more than 500,000 square kilometers (increasing tree cover from 12% to 18%) – the largest artificial forest in the world. [10] Of the 53,000 hectares planted that year, a quarter died. [8] In 2008, winter storms destroyed 10% of the new forest stock, causing the World Bank to advise China to focus more on quality rather than quantity in its stock species. [10]


If the trees succeed in taking root, they could soak up large amounts of groundwater, which would be extremely problematic for arid regions like northern China. [9] For example, in Minqin, an area in north-western China, studies showed that groundwater levels have dropped by 12–19 metres since the advent of the project. [8]

Land erosion and overfarming have halted planting in many areas of the project. China's increasing levels of pollution has also weakened the soil, causing it to be unusable in many areas. [6]

Furthermore, planting blocks of fast-growing trees reduces the biodiversity of forested areas, creating areas that are not suitable to plants and animals normally found in forests. "China plants more trees than the rest of the world combined", says John McKinnon, the head of the EU-China Biodiversity Programme. "But the trouble is they tend to be monoculture plantations. They are not places where birds want to live." The lack of diversity also makes the trees more susceptible to disease, as in 2000, when one billion poplar trees were lost to disease, setting back 20 years of planting efforts. [8]

Liu Tuo, head of the desertification control office in the state forestry administration, is of the opinion that there are huge gaps in the country's efforts to reclaim the land that has become desert. [11] At present[ when? ] there are around 1.73 million sq kilometers that have become desert in China, of which 530,000 km2 are treatable. But at the present rate of treating 1,717 km2 per year, it would take 300 years to reclaim the land that has become desert. [12]

Relations to climate change

China's forest scientists argued that monoculture tree plantations are more effective at absorbing the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide than slow-growth forests, [10] so while diversity may be lower, the trees purportedly help to offset China's carbon emissions. However, a study released in 2016 finds that wild woodlands are much more effective than monocultural forests in storing carbon dioxide, with more resilient and greater tree health, size, lifespan, and depth of organic matter rich soil. [13]

(See List of countries by carbon dioxide emissions)


Gao Yuchuan, the Forest Bureau head of Jingbian County, Shanxi, stated that "planting for 10 years is not as good as enclosure for one year", referring to the alternative non-invasive restoration technique that fences off (encloses) a degraded area for two years to allow the land to restore itself. [8] Jiang Gaoming, an ecologist from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and proponent of enclosure, says that "planting trees in arid and semi-arid land violates [ecological] principles". [8] The worry is that the fragile land cannot support such massive, forced growth. Others worry that China is not doing enough on the social level. To succeed, many believe the government should encourage farmers financially to reduce livestock numbers or relocate away from arid areas. [9]

See also

Related Research Articles

Desertification Process by which fertile areas of land become increasingly arid

Desertification is a type of land degradation in drylands in which biological productivity is lost due to natural processes or induced by human activities whereby fertile areas become increasingly arid. It is the spread of arid areas caused by a variety of factors, such as climate change and overexploitation of soil as a result of human activity.

Thar Desert large, arid region in the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent

The Thar Desert, also known as the Great Indian Desert, is a large arid region in the north western part of the Indian subcontinent that covers an area of 200,000 km2 (77,000 sq mi) and forms a natural boundary between India and Pakistan. It is the world's 17th largest desert, and the world's 9th largest hot subtropical desert.

Reforestation Land regeneration method

Reforestation is the natural or intentional restocking of existing forests and woodlands (forestation) that have been depleted, usually through deforestation, but also after clearcutting.

Tree planting

Tree-planting is the process of transplanting tree seedlings, generally for forestry, land reclamation, or landscaping purpose. It differs from the transplantation of larger trees in arboriculture, and from the lower cost but slower and less reliable distribution of tree seeds. Trees contribute to their environment over long periods of time by providing oxygen, improving air quality, climate amelioration, conserving water, preserving soil, and supporting wildlife. During the process of photosynthesis, trees take in carbon dioxide and produce the oxygen we breathe.


A windbreak (shelterbelt) is a planting usually made up of one or more rows of trees or shrubs planted in such a manner as to provide shelter from the wind and to protect soil from erosion. They are commonly planted in hedgerows around the edges of fields on farms. If designed properly, windbreaks around a home can reduce the cost of heating and cooling and save energy. Windbreaks are also planted to help keep snow from drifting onto roadways or yards. Farmers sometimes use windbreaks to keep snow drifts on farm land that will provide water when the snow melts in the spring. Other benefits include contributing to a microclimate around crops, providing habitat for wildlife, and, in some regions, providing wood if the trees are harvested.

Afforestation Establishment of trees where there were none previously

Afforestation is the establishment of a forest or stand of trees (forestation) in an area where there was no previous tree cover.

Korea Forest Service

The Korea Forest Service is an independent agency specializing in forestry that is overseen by the South Korean Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. It is charged with maintaining South Korea's forest lands; the current minister is Kim Jae-Hyun. The headquarters of the agency is located at the Daejeon Government Complex.

Great Green Wall

The Great Green Wall or Great Green Wall of the Sahara and the Sahel is Africa's flagship initiative to combat the increasing desertification. Led by the African Union, the initiative aims to transform the lives of millions of people by creating a mosaic of green and productive landscapes across North Africa.

Yatir Forest

Yatir Forest is a forest in Israel, located on the southern slopes of Mount Hebron, on the edge of the Negev Desert. The forest covers an area of 30,000 dunams, and is the largest planted forest in Israel.

Farmer-managed natural regeneration (FMNR) is a low-cost, sustainable land restoration technique used to combat poverty and hunger amongst poor subsistence farmers in developing countries by increasing food and timber production, and resilience to climate extremes. It involves the systematic regeneration and management of trees and shrubs from tree stumps, roots and seeds.

Greening Process of incorporating more environmentally friendly behaviors or systems into ones home, workplace, or lifestyle

Greening is the process of transforming living environments, and also artifacts such as a space, a lifestyle or a brand image, into a more environmentally friendly version. The act of greening generally involves incorporating more environmentally friendly systems into one's environment, such as the home, work place, and general lifestyle.

Jiang Gaoming Chinese botanist (born 1964)

Jiang Gaoming is a professor and Ph.D. tutor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Botany.

Desert Area of land where little precipitation occurs

A desert is a barren area of landscape where little precipitation occurs and, consequently, living conditions are hostile for plant and animal life. The lack of vegetation exposes the unprotected surface of the ground to the processes of denudation. About one-third of the land surface of the world is arid or semi-arid. This includes much of the polar regions, where little precipitation occurs, and which are sometimes called polar deserts or "cold deserts". Deserts can be classified by the amount of precipitation that falls, by the temperature that prevails, by the causes of desertification or by their geographical location.

Great Plains Shelterbelt

The Great Plains Shelterbelt was a project to create windbreaks in the Great Plains states of the United States, that began in 1934. President Franklin D. Roosevelt initiated the project in response to the severe dust storms of the Dust Bowl, which resulted in significant soil erosion and drought. The United States Forest Service believed that planting trees on the perimeters of farms would reduce wind velocity and lessen evaporation of moisture from the soil. By 1942, 220 million trees had been planted, stretching out 18,600 miles (29,900 km) in a 100-mile-wide zone from Canada to the Brazos River. Even as of 2007, "the federal response to the Dust Bowl, including the Prairie States Forestry Project which planted the Great Plains Shelterbelt and creation of the Soil Erosion Service, represents the largest and most-focused effort of the [U.S.] government to address an environmental problem".

Land restoration

Land restoration is the process of ecological restoration of a site to a natural landscape and habitat, safe for humans, wildlife, and plant communities. Ecological destruction, to which land restoration serves as an antidote, is usually the consequence of pollution, deforestation, salination or natural disasters. Land restoration is not the same as land reclamation, where existing ecosystems are altered or destroyed to give way for cultivation or construction. Land restoration can enhance the supply of valuable ecosystem services that benefit people.

Desert greening

Desert greening is the process of man-made reclamation of deserts for ecological reasons (biodiversity), farming and forestry, but also for reclamation of natural water systems and other ecological systems that support life. The term "desert greening" is intended to apply to both cold and hot arid and semi-arid deserts. It does not apply to ice capped or permafrost regions. Desert greening has the potential to help solve global water, energy, and food crises. It pertains to roughly 32 million square kilometres of land.

Mu Us Desert

The Mu Us Desert is a desert in northern China. Its south-eastern end is crossed by the Great Wall of China. The Mu Us forms the southern portion of the Ordos Desert and part of the Ordos Loop. The Wuding River drains the area, and then flows into the Yellow River.

Arid Forest Research Institute

Arid Forest Research Institute (AFRI) is a research institute situated in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India. The institute conducts scientific research in forestry in order to provide technologies to increase the vegetative cover and to conserve biodiversity in the hot arid and semi-arid regions of Rajasthan and Gujarat. It operates under the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE) of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India.

Land surface effects on climate are wide-ranging and vary by region. Deforestation and exploitation of natural landscapes play a significant role. Some of these environmental changes are similar to those caused by the effects of global warming.

There are many pressing environmental issues in Mongolia that are detrimental to both human and environmental wellness. These problems have arisen in part due to natural factors, but increasingly because of human actions. One of these issues is climate change, which will be responsible for an increase in desertification, natural disasters, and land degradation. Another is deforestation, which is expanding due to human recklessness, pests, disease, and fires. Mongolian lands are becoming more arid through desertification, a process that is being exacerbated due to irresponsible land use. Additionally, more and more species are disappearing and at risk for extinction. And, especially in population centers, Mongolians deal with air and water pollution caused by industrialization.


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