Thursday, April 5, 2012

Environmental Education Regenerated in China

Environmental Education Regenerated in China.

Eleven years ago, Chen Zhibiao, a student at the College of Geographical Sciences of Fujian Normal University, chose to stay in Changting to conduct his doctoral research.

Chen, who was 39 at the time, said the decision was inspired by the province's commitment to solving the soil erosion problem in the area.

Conditions were tough, but he persisted in his survey of slump gullies caused by intensive rainfall and in collecting soil examples from the barren hills along a river in Hetian, a small town that accounted for about a third of the eroded land in Changting county.

"The fieldwork was dangerous because landslides often occurred, but it was well worth the effort," Chen said.

After four years' research, Chen wrote his doctoral dissertation about the rehabilitation of eroded granite mountainous regions. But his work in turn inspired his university, which established a center for scientific research in Changting in 2003.

The center later became a think tank and underpinned the county's efforts to control soil erosion with scientific advice.

The center has attracted 12 PhD candidates and more than 40 postgraduates to conduct research on site. It has also achieved academic success based on research in Changting, such as how to improve fertilization of pine trees for afforestation.

Researchers also spread ideas to help agriculture. They advised villagers to plant grass on extremely steep slopes instead of trees, as grass could also be used to feed their livestock, and in turn the animals' manure could be used to fertilize the hills.

"It was a win-win strategy," Chen said. "The experts provide intellectual and technical support, while we also learn from local people's experience in the fields, and we create a knowledge base that can be shared with other regions."

Planting, not chopping

For Li Hongfu, Party chief of Hetian, planting trees and grass is just the first step in a long journey regarding water and soil conservation.

"To protect plants is just as important," he said. "We have to take measures to stop villagers from damaging the forest."

The town's policy on forest protection, printed on pink flyers piled high in Li's office, states that anyone who chops wood will be fined 20 yuan ($3.18) for each branch. Those who cut down a tree could be fined as much as 500 yuan or even jailed.

"We fenced off our hills for afforestation for years, and every village has a designated forest protection team to stop forests from being further damaged," he said.

Hetian's government also invited individuals or companies to contract for afforestation in the barren hills and arid land.

"We encouraged villagers to plant cash crops such as chestnut, waxberry and tea-oil trees, which can bring the farmers money without losing precious water and soil."

But on barren mountains and land unsuitable for planting those crops, it remained the government's responsibility to plant trees and grass.

Last year, a farmer's net annual income had increased to 6,860 yuan from 3,700 yuan in 2006, up 13 percent a year on average.

"The ultimate goal is to turn the mountains green to ensure the people live in a good environment and are well-off," Li said.

Learning as children

Middle school students in Hetian take an extra course that their counterparts in the cities might not get.

In its opening chapter, the textbook tells of the rise and fall of ancient Babylonia on the Euphrates River.

Babylonia created a splendid civilization but it died when the land became barren due to water loss and soil erosion.

"Environmental awareness should be learned as children," said Peng Shaoyun, a soil erosion control official in Changting.

In Hetian, a 120-hectare natural park has been built as a base for research and education. Shen Jinmu, an administrator at the park, said almost every school in the county had sent their students there for outdoor study.

"We teach them how to identify different kinds of trees, how to prevent forest fires, and allow them to participate in planting trees," said Shen, who also acts as a volunteer guide.

Shen tells all students and visitors that one tree can be made into thousands of matchsticks, while one matchstick can cause a fire and destroy thousands of trees.

"The students learn to protect the forest and can even be advocates for soil conservation to their family and friends," he said.


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