Millions of hectares of farmland have been turning into desert in China over the past few decades [GALLO/GETTY]

A farmer in Northwest China's Ningxia Hui autonomous region has spent ten years and over 6 million yuan (equivalent to $919,000) in planting trees in a desert area of over 130 hectares to curb desertification and sandstorms.

Zhan Yongkui, in his late sixties, lives near the desert in a village of Zhongwei. In the spring time, the area is vulnerable to sandstorms.

Ten years ago, Zhan decided to plant trees to curb the desertification and signed a contract for the right to use 200 hectares of barren desert with the local government for that purpose.

The decision cost him a whole decade and all the six million yuan he earned from his family owned factory. Now he has covered over 130 hectares of the desert with trees.

"In the beginning I had no idea how much money I should put in planting trees. I thought just a small amount of money would be enough but in the end it turns out to be a bottomless pit," Zhan said.

At the time few villagers could understand him and some ever sneered at him. Even in his family, except his wife he could find no other supporter.

But Zhan persevered. While the once barren desert has turned green, Zhan's wife who shared a tough time with him passed away early this year. Zhan said that his wife contracted lung and heart disease during the years of digging holes and planting trees with him. He said that without his wife, he couldn't have sustained till this day.

He takes good care of his trees. "One's life is limited, so is the tree's. If you leave it alone, it will die. It is just like a newly born baby who will not survive if it is left alone without any care. If you don't water the tree and ignore it, it will die," he said.

Zhan said that the jujube trees, peach trees and almond trees he planted in the desert several years ago bear fruits now. The surrounding ecology in the desert has also improved considerably, as he is no longer afraid of the strong wind in spring.

He intends to contract the orchards that have already promised economic gains to the fellow villagers in a bid to inspire more people to continue planting trees in the desert.

Zhan plans to work one more year on his contracted land this year and next year when he would be too old to labour, he'd contract the land to other households in the village by around one or 1.5 hectares each, to "achieve common prosperity."

Source: Al Jazeera