It has often been seen that the severest of hardships give rise to the most astonishing miracles. Spreading over 18,600 square kilometers, the harsh conditions of the Kubuqi desert in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region of China is home to many such hardships. But hope found its way into this desert wasteland and the story of Tserenbaabuu, or Babu, is nothing short of a miracle.
Born in a family who had never set a foot beyond the desert, Babu’s childhood fantasies were not made of flying cars or fairy castles, but a full stomach and new clothes. With his family dependent on raising livestock and picking wild liquorice, Babu was resigned to a life of fighting for survival every day.
Kubuqi Desert, Babu at his residence, Babu's house
But then, a ray of hope came into his life in the form of the Elion Resources Group (Elion) which looked to tackle the rising threat of desertification. With a vision to transform the challenges of the desert into an opportunity, a grand plan was drawn up to make the Kubuqi desert a shining example of desertification control which would be guided by the government, led by businesses, engaged in by the people and operated through a market mechanism in a Public-Private-People partnership.
Elion came up with the “desert economics” to develop a green economy in the region. It rests on the three pillars of adopting an integrated planning approach, the economic aspect of desertification and implementing the latest innovations in science and technology. This meant large-scale and systematic formation of green zones which would bring about positive changes in the climate and increase biodiversity along with the balanced development of eco-friendly activities like eco-animal husbandry, eco-tourism, eco-solar energy and others which would transform the desert into a green oasis. The desert economics also entailed the implementation of advances in biotechnology like germplasm sources along with water and soil improvement techniques which would help in the transformation of the Kubuqi desert.
The Transformation of Kubuqi Eco-Solar panels at the Kubuqi Desert)
Along with the development process, Elion understood that true growth would only be possible when the residents of the area became a part of the process. One of the ways in which they managed to do this is was through the development of a liquorice industry.
A high value, traditional Chinese herbal medicine which is drought resistant and requires no tillage or irrigation, Liquorice became central towards the development of the Kubuqi desert. Understanding that the symbiotic nitrogen-fixing bacteria in the roots of liquorice held the potential to boost soil fertility, Elion devised the horizontal transplanting model to intercrop liquorice with other plants. Simply put, it increased the reach of the healing effect of each liquorice plant and multiplied its greening effect.
Seeds and technical training on horizontal transplanting were then imparted to the local farmers with Elion providing the guarantee to buy the plants after three years on an agreed price to encourage the local population to participate in the process. To date, over 150,000 hectares of land has benefited from Liquorice plantation which has increased the annual revenue from 6000 RMB to 6,750 RMB per hectare and has helped over 5000 people rise above poverty.
The liquorice plantation has had a positive impact on desert greening, liquorice industry development, land restoration and poverty alleviation.
Examples of the greening work done by Elion through Horizontal planting of Liquorice
As the efforts by Elion were transforming the Kubuqi desert, Babu began to hope again. The combined efforts of the Chinese government, Elion and the people were reaping results and transforming the vast, inhibiting lands of the Kubuqi desert into a progressive society. And Babu knew that opportunities would walk hand-in-hand with development and he would be able to provide a better life to his family. He began to take part in the training sessions imparted by Elion and the Chinese government where he learned about Mongolian cuisine and driving off-road vehicles.
As the efforts of 30 years finally reaped fruits with over 6,000 square kilometers of the Kubuqi desert transforming into a green, prosperous area, more than 102,000 people of the region have left behind poverty with the generation of over 500 billion RMB of ecological wealth.
Stills of the new town developed by Elion in the Kubuqi desert
What was once home to a group of hard-working but desolate people is today a new town with spacious houses, wide roads and all modern amenities like electricity and running water. It stands as a beacon of human achievement and a testimony to the hard work of the Chinese government, Elion and the people. The town brought with itself many avenues for progress and Babu’s wait for a chance to turn his life around was finally over.
Today, with the help of the start-up capital he received from Elion for his sandy land, he owns a restaurant in the town with his wife which is a popular spot for tourists. For Babu, who has progressed from having dreams of a full stomach to ensuring that his patrons are left licking their fingers, this transformation is proof that God helps those who help themselves. And he knows that nothing can stop him now. In fact, with the help of two of his neighbors, Babu operates adventurous off-road drives across the desert sands and lakeside and already owns 16 off-road vehicles with grand plans of expansion.
Babu with his off-road vehicles. The restaurant run by Babu and his wife, Babu with his family at their new house
This metamorphosis of the Kubuqi desert is an important achievement for the entire world. With desertification threatening almost 25% of the land in the world, the Kubuqi model offers a replicable and sustainable solution. This was why at the thirteenth session of the Conference of Parties, or COP 13 forum, Chairman Wang of Elion highlighted the extraordinary achievements made in the Kubuqi desert. Some of the distinguished guests at the forum also visited the desert oasis of Kubuqi and witnessed first-hand the 310 MW eco-PV, Desert ecology and technology center, Germplasm resource bank, Amugulong Liquorice Health Industrial park, New Elion village and other such marvels of development.
More than that, the elation of people like Babu who have been given a new lease of life is proof that the world needs this model. If someone had told a young Babu that he would one day not have to endure the sternest of challenges just to get access to the most basic of amenities, he would probably have laughed it off as a whimsical fantasy. But Babu has seen it happen. And he has embraced the change with both hands and is even providing employment to others with dreams of starting a water sports service soon. His story is nothing short of a miracle, and the world is in desperate need of more such fairy tales.