A couple's mission to green a desert

By DENG ZHANGYU and YUAN HUI in Ejin Banner, Inner Mongolia | China Daily USA | Updated: 2017-09-02 03:38

A couple's mission to green a desert

Tubbat is devoted to planting trees in the desert in his hometown in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region. YUAN HUI / CHINA DAILY

Tubbat rises with the sun and hops on his motorbike to ride 30 kilometers to tend to a saxual forest that was once desert.

The 65-year-old and his wife, Tosontsagaan, have spent 15 years beating back the desert in the Inner Mon-golia autonomous region.

Tubbat treats each saxaul —a nearly leafless tree which grows in sandy soil — like his child. He waters them and con-tinues to plant more every spring.

He has planted more than 50,000 saxauls on a plot about the size of 133 soccer fields.

Tubbat is a villager in Inner Mongolia's Ejin Banner, where the Badain Jaran Desert, one of China's four biggest deserts, is located.

At the beginning of the last century, Ejin was a pictur-esque place with lakes, grasslands and forests.

"When I was a child, there were lakes, saxaul forests and animals. And it rained a lot," says Tubbat.

Sand storms devoured the green land. Herders had to move.

Tubbat decided to devote to planting trees in 2002, after he retired from his job as a government official. Tosont-sagaan supported his decision.

Since then, they have been planting trees, carrying water and building fences.

They did all this for free and even spent most of their retirement fund.

"Many people did not understand why I did this. They called me an idiot. They don't know the happiness I feel when I see the land turn green again," says Tubbat.

Carrying water is his greatest difficulty. They initially carried it themselves. They later used donkeys.

But more water was needed as they planted more trees. So, the couple then trans-formed a motorbike that can accommodate 48 barrels of water at a time.

Four years ago, Tosontsa-gaan had a stroke and couldn't continue planting trees. So, she stayed at home and did housework, giving Tubbat time to continue their dream of making the desert green again.

"My wife's support gives me energy," says Tubbat.

Tubbat was one of the first young people in his hometown to go to college in the 1970s. After graduation, he got a job with CCTV in Beijing.

But he chose to work with the local government to serve his hometown.

The couple has three children, who live in cities.

Their 38-year-old daughter initially refused to support Tubbat's decision.

But she changed her attitude after seeing her parents' happiness. She believes it's worthwhile.

Tubbat has also built a 10-km green fence in the desert to counter sandstorms.

"Our children want us to live in a city. But this is not the right time. I want to grow more trees," he says.

Tubbat is happy many locals have begun to plant trees after hearing his story.

Some have even visited him to learn how to plant saxaul in the desert.

"A tree is a water pump. It can bring rain and animals," he says.

"I want to be a tree, to grow up in the desert and block the sand until I die."

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