China Focus: Big data technology assists grassland restoration in Inner Mongolia
(Cited from Xinhua, June 17, 2020)
HOHHOT, June 17 (Xinhua) — As a drone buzzed overhead taking aerial photos of the prairies in north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Zhang Wenbiao took soil samples on the ground.
Work in the area has been going on since May. It involves an intensive “physical check” on an 18,333-hectare area of Xilingol Grasslands, one of the four major pastoral regions in Inner Mongolia, before starting a comprehensive grassland restoration program.
The project, the first of its kind to treat grassland degradation in the region, uses a big data platform jointly established by the government of East Ujimqin Banner and M·Grass Ecology, a tech firm in Inner Mongolia, to restore the grassland’s ecosystem.
The samples brought by Zhang and his colleagues to the company’s lab for analysis showed poor soil nutrition.
Based on the data about soil, water and geological conditions obtained from satellite photographs and precision photos taken by drones, the big data platform has selected different grass species adapted to growing on different areas of the prairies from the system’s database containing information of 62,000 varieties of plant germplasm resources.
“Understanding nature’s language is the first step in the restoration process. For us, nature talks in data,” said Chen Yufeng, deputy general manager of the M·Grass grassland restoration project.
Seeding machines have been installed to carry out mass sowing in the grasslands with seeds selected by the company. Chen said that they are using the rainy season from May to July for the planting, which is conducive to the survival of the vegetation.
Wednesday marked the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought, which is aimed at raising awareness of international efforts to tackle the challenge of desertification.
According to figures from the forestry and grassland administration of Inner Mongolia, by 2019, the average vegetation coverage of Xilingol Grasslands had reached 46.78 percent, an increase of 16 percentage points in 20 years thanks to a comprehensive effort of ecological rehabilitation.
“The ecological restoration concept that we advocate is to understand nature rather than to conquer it,” said Xu Min, chief information officer of the big data subsidiary of M·Grass Ecology.
The company has planned to install a large number of sensors to monitor soil and air conditions on the prairies for timely evaluation of the progress of the grassland restoration program.
“If we continue to feed the ‘brain’ (of the platform) with data, it can help calculate information such as grassland bearing capacity to indicate how many sheep and cows can be raised at the most,” said Chen.
The region has been committed to striking a forage-livestock balance in the pastoral areas by providing subsidies to herdsmen to limit the number of their livestock since 2011 while carrying out programs to protect grassland biodiversity.
Du Senyun, deputy director of the forestry and grassland administration in East Ujimqin Banner, said that larger hay yield of the grassland means bigger size of flocks and more money in herdsmen’s pockets, and a higher vegetation coverage attracts more tourists.
M·Grass Ecology had earlier been involved in programs treating fragile ecology problems such as degraded land, deserted mines, and saline-alkaline land in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Tibet Autonomous Region as well as Yunnan and Shaanxi provinces in west China.