A lesson in regenerative agriculture from the Loess Plateau
10 000 years of damage, but not beyond repair.
Today’s visitors to the Loess Plateau will find a suitably luscious landscape for a province thought to be the cradle of Chinese civilisation. Agricultural land is rich in produce and animals, tourism levels are markedly increased, and farmers are reaping the rewards of an economic boom for land they own, not merely tend to.
It is incredible to think that little over a decade ago this flourishing ecosystem was devastated to the point of collapse, and no longer able to support the population. Centuries of unsustainable farming on the land had caused alarming levels of soil erosion, flooding and crop failure, while poverty was widespread throughout the province. No solution was far-reaching enough, and after supporting settled agriculture for an estimated 9,500 years, the Loess Plateau seemed beyond repair.
Yet today it is an area green, verdant and simply transformed beyond recognition from the desolation of a decade ago. The answer, we are told, lies in sustainable or regenerative farming, also known as permaculture.
The Root of the Problem
In 1995, the Chinese Government received $300 million in funding from the World Bank Institute, a co-operative providing international financial assistance, to launch a two-stage recovery initiative. After consultations with experts in hydrology, soil dynamics and economics, the Government knew they needed to successfully tackle both the agricultural and social problems in Loess once and for all. These issues were both cause and symptom of problems in the area and one could not be resolved without the other.