A medicinal plant is helping cure desertification, poverty in China

Cultivation of licorice – a popular medicinal plant – is helping reverse land degradation in Kubuqi desert and also providing alternate job opportunities to local communities.

"Growing licorice allows Kubuqi residents to earn much more than they would in the nearby coal mines and restores the land enough to produce other crops within just four years," said Ibrahim Thiaw, head of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

Thiaw was addressing policymakers, and government representatives from more than 30 countries gathered at seventh Kubuqi International Desert Forum at the Ordos in north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

Spread over an area of 18,000 square kilometers, Kubuqi is the seventh-largest desert of China. The root of licorice also helps fix soil's nitrogen content, making it more fertile. The enhanced fertility helps in cultivation of other crops in the desert.

The land restoration work in the region alone could be worth nearly two billion U.S. dollars over 50 years, according to a recent UN estimate. Such innovative measures in the last 30 years have helped in ten-fold increase in vegetation over 6,000 square kilometers of the Kubuqi desert, he added.

Held under the theme of "Greening the Belt and Road, Building the Ecological Civilization," delegates discussed best practices to reverse desertification at the two-day forum that started from June 27.

Global warming, overgrazing, and over-exploitation of groundwater have caused land degradation and desertification, affecting nearly 75 percent of the Earth's land area.

More than 90 percent of the Earth's land could become degraded by 2050, vastly impacting the soil's fertility, the World Atlas of Desertification published by European Commission last year warned.

The world loses 12 million hectares of productive land every year, which has far-reaching consequences, including falling crop yields, massive food loss, rising tensions over natural resources, forced migration and weakened resilience to climate change, UN secretary-general, António Guterres in a message to the forum said.

"The Kubuqi International Desert Forum is an opportunity to share and scale-up success stories in and beyond China," he added.

One of the country's largest solar energy farms at Kubuqi, with a generation capacity of 500 million KWh, has also become a job provider in the region. It employs 50 families to clean the solar panels.

(Delegates attending 7th Kubuqi International Desert Forum with the theme of "Greening the Belt and Road, Building the Ecological Civilization" on Saturday. /Xinhua Photo)