Dispatches from China: Part Four
Hohhot, China – Inner Mongolia
After a brief but wondrous visit to the city of Hangzhou, we were off to the final destination on our China trip: Hohhot, in Inner Mongolia, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Lao Niu Foundation.
The Lao Niu Foundation was founded by Niu Gensheng and his family in 2008 as one of the very first philanthropic organizations in China. Presently the Foundation has 23 projects underway in the areas of environmental restoration and protection of forests, wetlands, wildlife, biodiversity, and carbon emission reductions.
Niu Gensheng’s business is The Mengniu Dairy Group, founded in 1999 and now one to the top 10 dairy companies in the world.
Significantly, from the very beginnings of the company, environmental sustainability was an integral part of its business model. Mengniu and its farmer partners developed a system of agroforestry, incorporating a “silvopasture” land use system of growing trees, hedgerows and shrubs around the cows’ pastureland. This approach provided for a better use of marginal lands, pollution reduction, carbon storage, biodiversity, and healthier cows producing higher quality milk.
The dairy is amazing. Cows are kings and art here. The facility has tapped into the most advanced proven technology, robotics/automation, and artificial intelligence from around the world to design its plants and run its operations. The ice cream, milk, and yogurt in the sample room at the end of the tour were outstanding.
We then headed for the Foundation’s “Inner Mongolia Shengle International Ecological Demonstration Plot.” This project has turned 6,500 acres of barren eroded mountains into a green landscape by planting over 3 million native pine trees. The reforestation has not only stopped erosion, but has supported the increase in biodiversity from less than 30 species to more than 70 species of rabbits, foxes, badgers, birds, and falcons. Over 10,000 residents of local communities have benefited from this restoration.
Inner Mongolian Grasslands
Our last two days before heading back to Beijing were spent on the magnificent, recently restored grasslands of Inner Mongolia. These enormous grasslands are regarded as among the most important natural resources in China due to their ecological and economic value. With the rapid development and over-grazing in China, major areas of these delicate grasslands had been degraded and destroyed. Given the magnitude of the vast area they cover, their degradation alters regional and global environments and impacts millions of people who have lived there for generations.
With aggressive restoration efforts by the Chinese government over the last 10 years, the grasslands are in rapid recovery.
Here we joined the Summit of the Hong Kong and Taiwan Philanthropist and the official 10-year anniversary celebration of the Lao Niu Foundation.
All of us were housed in individual yurts. During the day we met and shared our missions and initiatives to address the environmental, social, and economic challenges of the Earth! The group was taken to an Inner Mongolian “Medieval Times” – an amazing display of the horse culture and riding skills so famously developed by the Mongolians in these highlands.
At a celebration banquet we were all honored with a traditional feast, topped off with group karaoke singing of Chinese songs and dancing around a campfire under a full moon. Fabulous.
The next day, we exchanged our yurt for a room at the St. Regis in Beijing – quite a contrast – before heading back to the United States, riding high after such an amazing whirlwind tour of the ecological commitment and restoration progress being made in China. Their generosity, graciousness, philanthropic spirit, and earnest desire to partner with other citizens of Planet Earth, regardless of borders, left us feeling incredibly optimistic and more eager than ever to get down to work!
Having some time to reflect on our once in a lifetime journey to China this summer, we continue to be so grateful for the adventure and experience provided by our hosts. This trip would not have been possible without DANG Yanbao and BIAN Haiyan (Hosts), AI Luming, WANG Limin, WANG Xuehui, WANG Qinghong (China Global Philanthropy Institute), Zhang Rui (Merissa) (China Global Philanthropy Institute), Carol Fox (East-West Philanthropy Forum) and Jay Henderson (China Global Philanthropy Institute).
In reflecting on our experiences throughout the trip, it is clear that China certainly has the capacity and ability to address climate change and sustainability goals at a landscape scale. If the government chooses to tackle an issue head on, they are able to launch projects virtually overnight. This is exciting on many fronts, especially as China is now the largest country leading the charge to address climate change through the Paris Agreement goals.
Initiatives to address sustainability and climate change are necessary at a global scale. Overall we were surprised and delighted about how proactive China has been, how much is being done and how an intent to address environmental issues has turned into action. Restore the Earth Foundation is committed to joining hands with partners and initiatives that implement solutions to address our global environmental, social and economic challenges.