In a problem that is pervasive in much of China, over-farming has drawn down the water table so low that desert is overtaking farmland. Authorities have ordered farmers here in Gansu province to vacate their properties over the next 3 1/2 years, and will replace 20 villages with newly planted grass in a final effort to halt the advance of the Tengger and Badain Jaran deserts.
“I don’t want to move,” said Chen Ying, 58, sitting in a sparsely furnished bedroom dominated by a red, wall-sized poster of Mao, the communist founding father who sought to catapult Chinese farming and industry into modernity with the so-called Great Leap Forward.
“But if we keep using the groundwater, it will decline,” said Chen. “We have to think about the next generation.”