The impact of desertification in the BRI

The rise of the BRI creates the framework for broad cooperation between China and 65 partner countries facilitating policy coordination and economic prosperity. In addressing the growing concerns of this expansion, this SIGNAL Note will discuss the impact of desertification in the BRI’s implementation and how innovative Israeli technology and thinking can help mitigate these adverse effects. In particular this note will address how the Jacob Blaustein Institute for Desert Research at Ben-Gurion University in the Negev’s pragmatic solutions to desertification which could surly be applicable to Chinese markets. Additionally, this SIGNAL note will describe how a new formulaic approach to water management and the implementation of technology can lead to closer peer-to-peer bonds while decreasing the negative impact of environmental degradation. 

95% of Israel’s land is dry sub-humid, semi-arid, arid or hyper-arid thus Israel is almost entirely comprised of drylands accompanied by the threats of soil degradation and desertification. With this reality perpetually constant Israeli experience and successes in preventing land degradation and desertification provide a clear strategy to alleviate the growing risk caused by drought and widespread desertification. 

For China the impact of expanding deserts especially in the southern section of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and four of the six total major economic corridors in the BRI will be the catalyst for broader cooperation and strategic partnerships. As the BRI crosses through Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Pakistan and Egypt, countries at high risk for the worst affects desertification, the value and experience Israel brings to preventing land degradation is essential.

In order to best correlate Israeli advances in preventing desertification to how they can be applied in Chinese markets, it is worth looking at the technological advancements made by the Jacob Blaustein Institute for Desert Research and how they could impact Chinese environmental issues. Following a discussion of the technological breakthroughs which have placed Israel at the forefront of land degradation solutions an analysis of the shifts in critical thinking and policy will be addressed. These have led to effective land management which, if implemented in Chinese markets, could prevent significant environmental degradation and agricultural loss.

Technological advancement and Jacob Blaustein Institute for Desert Research

“In 1948, [Israel’s] soils showed dramatic deterioration, and conditions were growing worse quickly. The causes involved overgrazing, deforestation and agriculture that was not sustainable.” In order to prevent large scale environmental denigration and lay the groundwork for a viable land use strategy the young Jewish State was forced to create innovative approaches and revolutionary solutions to the topographical and climatic challenges faced in the Middle East. 

As a result of this adversity Israeli academics and farmers alike developed an integrated strategy of technological advancements and policy goals, creating lasting solutions to desertification and land degradation which have been applied globally.
Shifts in the productivity of Israel’s land use “has largely been achieved through substantial investment in scientific research – in soil, climate, agriculture, forestry and ecological sciences. To a great extent, Israeli’s program for combating desertification is based on sustainable agricultural development through centralized national water management”

Some key examples of the technologies created to alleviate desertification faced by Israel include; subsurface drip irrigation which prevents the loss of water due to evaporation. Runoff and rainfall catchment basins, which have enabled the development of agroforestry in areas with low rainfall building. These pragmatic solutions to difficult problems of water management increase productivity and have proven to reverse the effects of desertification. Of particular note, The Jacob Blaustein Institute for Desert Research at Ben Gurion University of the Negev has developed an array of crops suited to grow in salty water, significantly altering the process needed for effective gray water management and reuse. In all of these examples Israeli technological solutions have illustrated major breakthroughs in reversing the harsh effects of desertification while providing the global community, including China with the catalyst to prevent further land degradation.

Installation of a drip irrigation system in the Negev Desert, Israel)

Shifts in critical thinking and policy coordination

Technological know-how is not enough to make a lasting impact to the complex issues involved in land degradation. In order to create long term solutions technology must be combined with a multi-disciplined approach to land use and water management to slow desertification. As Israel learned that through “a combination of grazing regulations, agricultural innovations, ambitious water management projects, [and] aggressive afforestation efforts” desertification can be halted in its steps though coordination and long term planning.
To formulate a cohesive course of attack Israeli strategic planning directed a four-tiered policy to combat desertification including; development plans, upgraded sustainable water, & policies to promote sustainable agriculture. In aligning developmental ambitions with technological understanding, Israel’s policy makers utilized a holistic approach to gain viable solutions to land deterioration. Instead of letting the equipment dictate policy, Israeli innovation facilitated a long term approach to mitigating the environmental impact of desertification. 

By establishing a long term plan of action to resolve land degradation Israeli solutions and creative policy approaches could serve as an effective model to strategist planning the BRI. Through careful policy coordination and the integration of innovative technological solutions Israeli experience could help guide Chinese investors, NGO’s and government experts to pragmatic approaches to desertification.


How is this Relevant to China?

According to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon “in the next 25 year’s soil degradation could cause a 12% drop in global grain harvests, and a 30% rise in grain prices. Without a long-term strategy to resolve the problem, desertification will affect food supplies, cause migration and threaten the stability of many countries and regions.” For China the BRI’s southern section of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor faces major threats of land degradation. In order to combat soil erosion and the negative impacts of expanding deserts, i.e. soil erosion, lowering of the water table and losses in agricultural production, China must integrate innovative policy approaches and technological advancements. Israel’s long history in combating growing deserts could provide critical insight for Chinese policy makers into how to mitigate environmental impact. 

Through strong partnerships with Israeli innovators and scholars China can resolve vast issues of environmental consequence- i.e. water management, desertification and broader land degradation, before they cause economic damage to the core aims of the BRI. In essence Israeli experiences and creative approaches to reversing the desert can help China implement the BRI in an environmentally conscious and pragmatic ways. This will decrease risk for investment while promoting sustainable long term growth models across the projects of the BRI.

Where can this be applied now and in the future?

According to a recently published report by the Global Ecosystems and Environment Observation’s Annual Report for China “400 kilometers of the China-Mongolia-Russia corridor passes through desert. Half of the 6,000 km long China-Central Asia-Western Asia economic corridor is desert. Drought and desertification are the major environmental constraints along the New Eurasian Land Bridge (which runs from Lianyungang in coastal Jiangsu province to Rotterdam in The Netherlands). Drought and widespread desertification were also named as the major environmental issues in the southern section of the China-Pakistan economic corridor.” As the consequences of desertification and land degradation impact 2/3rd of the BRI’s economic corridors it is clear that a viable management strategy must but developed to prevent large scale environmental damage and slow the pace of Chinese economic growth.

“Vice Premier Wang Yang and the State Forestry Administration (which has responsibility for desertification issues) have both said desertification issues should be taken seriously when building infrastructure, and stronger communication and cooperation is needed to deal with it.” As such it is of the utmost importance to facilitate a strategic approach to reversing the growing deserts across the BRI. In this outlook the field tested experience of Israeli technicians and policy makers could serve as a vital resource in preventing environmental loss.

Additionally, the BRI passes through seven Chinese provinces significantly impacted by desertification, according to the State Forestry Administration. “They are mostly in the arid northwest, where 95% of China’s deserts are.” As such, the innovated techniques developed in Israel could also ensure better environmental outcomes within the borders of China proper.

Tourists walking around the desert landscape of Crescent Lake

How does this Impact Sino-Israel Relations?

Few issues present the possibility for strategic cooperation as much expanding deserts and land degradation. According to Yong Liqiang, deputy head of the State Forestry Administration “the scale of existing desertification, soil degradation and drought in more than 60 of the 65 countries covered by the One Belt, One Road strategy” causes major concern to investors and the Chinese government alike. In the fight to prevent the expansion of deserts, Sino-Israel cooperation can provide a vehicle for strategic dialog while building upon existing academic and diplomatic relationships. In utilizing Israeli technological and policy advancements Chinese planners can prevent environmental loss while building bridges with valuable partners across the continent.

Relationships grow closer when each player can provide essential knowledge, experience and understanding to practical issues that affect all involved. As the expansion of deserts impacts 40% of the world’s total land and more than 2 billion people closer cooperation to preventing the spread of desertification will prove vital in international economic growth, and especially the BRI’s push west. Sino-Israel cooperation to reduce desertification present the opportunity to learn from each nations practical experience, and present pragmatic solutions to environmental degradation in Asia and beyond. In addressing desertification, Sino-Israel ties can expand in their strategic impact while laying the foundation for effective environmental management in the BRI. Author:Yehudah SunshinePublished: 10-10-2016