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  Turning back China's deserts
  By Sherri Zickefoose

Calgary Herald

August 1, 2002

A Calgary company is poised to help China's $84 billion reforestation plan and cultivate a growing business at the same time.

  In two weeks, Calgarians Jan Bjerreskov and Dan Chu are ready to uproot their families and head to Inner Mongolia for at least three years -- time enough to build 100 acres of greenhouses, start growing 500 million spruce and pine seedlings, and train Chinese farmers to harvest trees to combat the creeping desert that is spelling disaster for Asia.
  Their Calgary company has been hired by the Chinese government, which unveiled plans in May for a $12 billion, 10-year effort to plant thousands of square kilometres of trees, hoping to repair decades of environmental damage and the slow spread of desertification threatening farmland. It will be the biggest conservation effort ever attempted, according to Chinese forestry officials.
  "They're throwing billions of dollars at these projects," says Bjerreskov, Maple Leaf Reforestation Inc.'s general manager.
  "It's a massive, massive project."
  Desertification is the loss of crop-growing soil due to poor land management, lack of irrigation and deforestation. China's spreading deserts are destroying farming land at a worrisome pace -- about 2,500 square kilometres each year.
  The government's plan to import a little Canadian know-how is expected to help build a shield against the yellow Gobi wind and also to help farmers learn to harvest pine and spruce to create a future industry.
  "They're doing their best, but it's just not working," says Bjerreskov, who saw empty greenhouses and puny saplings during a recent tour of the area.
  "Right now, it takes them about three years to grow a 15-cm seedling and we can do it in five months in a greenhouse," he said. "We're taking the Canadian technology and transferring it to China."
  Bjerreskov has lived in Calgary since 1982 after leaving his home of Denmark. He managed Golden Acre Garden Sentres for over three years, and has worked in horticulture his entire life.
  He expects to have the first greenhouse built by December and seeding underway by January.
  "I'm excited, but I got scared when the numbers started coming in because it's so big, just to fulfill our contract."
  Maple Leaf will own 60 per cent of the greenhouse project and estimates startup to cost $3 million. In five years, the build-out costs for the future 47 greenhouses will be $97 million,
  according to Chu. The company, which has sprouted from Optimal Life Group Inc., has negotiated the contract to supply China with annual revenue potential on full deployment of $150 million, producing a cash flow of $117 million.
  Chu, Maple Leaf's president, is as excited by the prospect of turning a profit as he is by the chance to create jobs.
  "We hope we can make a difference," says Chu, a chartered accountant who studied at the University of Saskatchewan.
  Bjerreskov will be joined by his wife, Eva, in a year. While their daughters are in university, he says the couple will return to the city.

"Calgary is always going to be home. That's where we settled down. The mountains are our playground, that's what we enjoy, camping and hiking."


From Yeke-juu League to Ordos Municipality: settler colonialism and alter/native urbanization in Inner Mongolia

Close to Eden (Urga): France, Soviet Union, directed by Nikita Mikhilkov

Beyond Great WallsBeyond Great Walls: Environment, Identity, and Development on the Chinese Grasslands of Inner Mongolia

The Mongols at China's EdgeThe Mongols at China's Edge: History and the Politics of National Unity

China's Pastoral RegionChina's Pastoral Region: Sheep and Wool, Minority Nationalities, Rangeland Degradation and Sustainable Development

Changing Inner MongoliaChanging Inner Mongolia: Pastoral Mongolian Society and the Chinese State (Oxford Studies in Social and Cultural Anthropology)

Grasslands and Grassland Science in Northern ChinaGrasslands and Grassland Science in Northern China: A Report of the Committee on Scholarly Communication With the People's Republic of China

The Ordos Plateau of ChinaThe Ordos Plateau of China: An Endangered Environment (Unu Studies on Critical Environmental Regions)
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