China's Yan'an transformation into a green forest
Liu Jiaxin

Twenty years ago, life on China's northwestern loess plateau used to be a land of dry air, sandstorms, and torrential floods. Trees and other plants were rarely seen across the barren land, near the city of Yan'an. 

But things are vastly different now. 

"I witnessed and participated in Yan'an's change. The air's getting better. Trees are everywhere. It rains a lot now, but no muddy torrents any more," said Wang Fuliang from Nanniwan Santai Village.

Before-and-after Yan'an. /Yan'an TV photo

Before-and-after Yan'an. /Yan'an TV photo

Yan’an has undergone some of China's most thorough changes in the last two decades. In 2017, 81 percent of the city was covered by plants, and the number keeps growing.

With the increase in vegetation, water is better conserved. Over the past eight years, the amount of silt flowing into the Yellow River has dropped drastically from 258 million tons to just 31 million tons per year.

But what made the former Yan'an so unsightly in the first place? An expert said "blind cultivation" was to blame.

In 2017, 81 percent of the city was covered by plants. /CGTN Photo

In 2017, 81 percent of the city was covered by plants. /CGTN Photo

"People used to cultivate on steep slopes and sandy land that’s not suitable for growing most crops," said Liu Aiyuan, exhibitor of the "Farmlands to Forests" project in Wuqi County. "The more they cultivated, the worse the land became, and the less they'd harvest. So they would cultivate harder. And that’s how they'd get themselves trapped," Liu explained.

To get out of that cycle, around 286,000 rural households in Yan'an were persuaded to convert their farming fields to planting areas. By the end of 2018, about 1.8 million acres of farmland were covered by forests.

Wondering how farmers managed to make a living without farming? Stay tuned in CGTN's "Green Revolution" series.

(Special thanks to Yan'an TV)