Tserenbaabuu’s parents never saw outside the desert. They were herdsmen of the Kubuqi who lived in a tiny house with their three children. As a young boy, Tserenbaabuu’s greatest wish was to have enough food to eat and clothes to wear. But new hope arrived in 2006 when construction of a town began thanks to funding from Elion Resources Group.
The town’s new and spacious houses had road access, electricity and running water – a huge improvement in living standards. The relocation project also created opportunities for herdsmen to find employment or start their own businesses.
Today, the happy couple runs a restaurant in the new town. Mongolian restaurants are popular with tourists, serving up authentic lamb dishes, milk tea and wines amid the hospitality of the grassland. During peak seasons, the couple can make three or four thousand yuan a day (USD $450 to $600), a sum they could hardly have dreamed of before the town was built.
Chairman of Elion Resources Group Wang Wenbiao shared the successes of Elion over nearly 30 years of combating desertification and developing related industries in the Kubuqi Desert at the thirteenth session of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. The Conference was held in Ordos, Inner Mongolia from 6 to 16 September and the “Kubuqi model” developed by Elion was praised as an example of private-public partnerships that can alleviate poverty.
In 1998, Wang took control of the near-bankrupt Hangjinqi Saltworks that were plagued by poor transport links. He built a new direct road to carry salt to the nearest train depot, but it was soon buried by swirling sand storms.
His company started paying local people to plant and tend to trees to tame the sprawling desert. The land is now green thanks to drought-resistant willows, poplars and flowering bushes. The region has improved its agriculture while tourism offers opportunities for desert entrepreneurs such as Tserenbaabuu.
Tserenbaabuu says that when he was a boy, transport was a huge problem. The family had to ride camels to the nearest town some 30 miles away to buy essential items. The journey to the market and back took three full days.
Now Tserenbaabuu works with two neighbors to offer adventurous tourists off-road drives across the desert sands and lakesides. They have 16 off-road vehicles and hire more than ten professional drivers. After just two years of operation they have already recouped their investment.
Elion’s anti-desertification model has helped green one third of the 18,600 sq km of sand dunes that comprise the Kubuqi desert. Wang Wenbiao was awarded the 2013 Global Dryland Champion Award from the UN Convention to Combat Desertification in recognition of his work tackling environmental degradation, boosting livelihoods and safeguarding the planet.
When Tserenbaabuu’s wife gave birth to their first daughter, they chose the name Yun Mengsha, containing strokes for “grass”, a Chinese character meaning verdancy, vigor and hope. The couple hopes the next generation of their family can enjoy an even better, happier life.
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