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The Convention to Combat Desertification: A Case Study from China

Volume 3 Number 2 - June 1999


The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (CCD) was adopted in June 1994. At the end of 1998, 148 countries had ratified or acceded to the Convention.

Desertification is the degradation of land in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas. It is caused primarily by climatic variation and human activities; desertification does not refer to the expansion of existing deserts. It occurs because dryland systems, which cover over one third of the world's land area, are extremely vulnerable to over-exploitation and inappropriate land use. Poverty, political instability, deforestation, overgrazing and bad irrigation practices can all undermine the land's fertility. Combating desertification is essential to ensure long-term productivity of inhabited drylands. The Convention aims to promote effective action through innovative local programmes and supportive international partnerships. Governments also need to focus on awareness-raising, education, and training both in developing and developed countries.

There are botanic gardens in many dryland regions of the world, such as in parts of China, India, the Arabian Peninsula, Israel, South Africa and the U.S.A. Through research and development (Article 17) in national and regional institutions they have contributed to methods for combating desertification by prevention and/or reduction of land degradation, rehabilitation of partly degraded land and reclamation of desertified land.

The Turpan Eremophyte Botanic Garden, China

In order to strengthen scientific research on the development of arid lands, the Chinese Academy of Sciences has incorporated the Xinjiang Institute of Biology, Pedology and Desert Research with the Xinjiang Institute of Geography to become the Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography. The Turpan Eremophyte Botanic Garden is affiliated to this institute. The purpose of the Garden is to collect a wide range of desert plants to illustrate the characteristics of the desert flora and become a research centre for the collection and conservation of eremophytes (desert plants) of the arid regions of China. There are more than 400 species of eremophyte in the garden since the garden's foundation in 1976 and a varied programme of research projects have been undertaken:

  • study on large-scale sand-binder afforestation in Turpan Prefecture;
  • study on Capparis spinosa and its planting techniques;
  • study on the introduction, seedling-raising and afforestation of Tamarix;
  • study on the introduction and cultivation of fine-sand binder plants
  • study on the introduction and comprehensive utilization of Cyperus esculentus;
  • study on afforestation using Cyamopsis;
  • experiments on seedling raising and afforestation with high molecular water-absorptive resin on extreme arid desert land; 
  • studies on the biological characteristics and artificial propagation of liquorice;
  • study on the introduction and features of rare and endangered eremophytes in Xinjiang;
  • study of the conservation of germplasm resources of cultivated plants and the introduction of indigenous species in eremophyte gardens;
  • study on Tamarix in China and the conservation of biological diversity;
  • the introduction and cultivation of Lithospermum sp. in Xinjiang;
  • the conservation of the biological diversity of germplasm resources of special, rare and endangered plants in desert areas of Xinjiang.

The population distribution, taxonomy, physiology, ecology, morphology, anatomy and cytology of Tamarix, Calligonum, Nitraria and Glycyrrhiza have also been studied.

Although this is a young garden, some achievements in scientific research and social benefit have been gained. Fine-sand binder plants such as Tamarix, Calligonum and Haloxylon have been distributed to desert regions of China. The studies on the introduction and cultivation of Tamarix laid the foundations for building large-scale sand-binder and fuel forests in the south of Xinjiang. The study on the introduction and cultivation of medical eremophytes, such as Glycyrrhiza and Ephedra, provided the technology and information for the practical development and use of eremophytes resources. Furthermore, in order to improve the utilization of sand land, some economic plants such as Chinese Wolfberry (Lycium chinense), Cyperus esculentus, Xanthoceras sorbifolia and Cyamopsis were introduced successfully.

17 June 1999

Desertification is the degradation of land in dry regions through various factors, including climatic variations and human activities. It affects about 8% of the world's land surface and about 15% of the world’s population. Measures to combat it are the focus of a major international effort, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (CCD), in which action programmes have been drawn up, especially for developing countries in Africa experiencing serious drought and/or desertification.

Much of Kew's scientific research is dedicated towards improving our understanding of the plants of dry regions and disseminating information about them (an important component of Article 16 of the CCD).

Our activities include:

  • classifying the plants of Africa (e.g. the Flora of Tropical East Africa project);
  • Plantas do Nordeste, a programme encompassing a wide range of botanical projects in the dry (and poor) north east region of Brazil and a new Plant Information Centre funded by the Department for International Development;
  • collecting and saving the seeds of dryland plants worldwide through the Millennium Seed Bank Project which is sponsored by The Millennium Commission, The Wellcome Trust and Orange plc who are, together, providing over £40 million towards this £80 million project;
  • collecting, analysing and disseminating information on the uses of dryland plants in the Survey of Economic Plants for Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (SEPASAL), a major database which will be put on the internet this year;
  • training botanists and other professionals from dryland areas in plant conservation techniques by courses run at Kew and regionally, e.g. in Nairobi.

Hundreds of dryland plant species, all scientifically named, are on view at Kew. In the Princess of Wales Conservatory, for example, you can see examples of the extraordinary flora of North American deserts, African savannahs, and the dry south west corner of Madagascar - all places where Kew is collaborating with local scientists and institutes on research on plants, the basis of life on Earth.

This poster is presented by the Dryland Group, which represents and coordinates a wide spectrum of Kew’s activities and expertise in the:

  • Anatomy and Biological Interactions Sections of the Jodrell Laboratory
  • Centre for Economic Botany
  • Computing Section
  • Education Department
  • Herbarium
  • Living Collections Department
  • Seed Conservation Department