Ninh Thuận’s rocky mountains replaced with greenery

June 01, 2024 - 09:16
To combat desertification, the restoration of forests has become an urgent and effective measure to reclaim the land.
A herd of goats foraging on a dried-up bed of Phước Trung Reservoir in Ninh Thuận Province's Bắc Ái District, where the land is cracked due to a prolonged drought. VNA/VNS Photo

By An Yên

NINH THUẬN – Planting forests on rocky terrain, a seemingly impossible task, has been successfully accomplished in the south-central province of Ninh Thuận. This achievement shows the possibilities and opportunities to increase forest cover in this region, known for having the driest climate in all of Việt Nam.

The south-central province of Ninh Thuận was once characterised by emaciated sheep foraging for every blade of grass and locals rationing every drop of water during long dry seasons.

Desertification was particularly severe in the coastal districts, where only a few trees could survive without human intervention. To combat desertification, the restoration of forests has become an urgent and effective measure to reclaim this land.

Long-term efforts to fight desertification in Ninh Thuận have been successful, as impoverished soil caused by water scarcity is gradually being replaced by greenery. Neem trees (Azadirachta indica) and thanh thất (Ailanthus triphysa) have been thriving in coastal areas.

According to the provincial Forest Protection Department, trees are the most effective solution for water retention, helping to maintain groundwater resources for the local community.

However, the development of forests in the semi-arid regions along the coastal hills of Ninh Hải, Thuận Bắc and Thuận Nam face many challenges, due to adverse weather conditions, difficult terrain and local livestock grazing habits.

Numerous reforestation programmes were implemented, initially using acacia and eucalyptus trees. But these trees could not withstand the harsh heat of Ninh Thuận and the young plants were often damaged by grazing livestock.

In 1981, a new tree species from Africa, the neem, was introduced by scientist Lâm Công Định from the Vietnamese Academy of Forest Sciences and planted as a trial in the province.

Neem grew quickly with its drought-tolerant capacity. At that time, neem was virtually the only tree species capable of enduring the scorching heat in the region.

The provincial forestry sector highly valued the neem tree for its reforestation potential in these arid regions. Neem trees were planted around houses, along pathways, in offices and schools, as well as along streets. They were planted for shade, sandstorm prevention and aesthetic purposes.

As a result, thousands of hectares of neem were planted on a vast sandy area in the province.

Neem trees are also a valuable source of medicines and can be used to treat numerous ailments such as chickenpox, diabetes, stomach ulcers, tuberculosis and leprosy. Neem leaves are also extracted to produce a variety of valuable cosmetics.

In 2008, the provincial Department of Agriculture and Rural Development confirmed that neem would be considered one of the primary, multi-purpose crops with a high economic value.

Given the economic benefits that neem trees provide, Ninh Thuận Province has planned to expand the cultivation area to over 6,000 hectares, to help mitigate and eventually halt the risk of desertification across the province. Additionally, it will create a stable raw material zone to support the processing plants for neem products.

The trees on the rocks

In 2015, the thanh thất tree joined the neem tree as one of the primary species in the province.

After a period of planting both neem and thanh thất together, experts and locals confirmed that thanh thất was an even more effective tree for forestation in terms of growth.

SHOOTS OF RECOVERY: Seedling nursery for afforestation at Núi Chúa National Park in Ninh Hải District.

Compared to neem, thanh thất has a significant advantage. It is a native species and its leaves are not eaten by goats or sheep. In harsh conditions with scarce food, goats and sheep often eat neem leaves, but they do not damage the leaves of thanh thất.

Under the neem canopy, no ground cover or native woody plants can coexist. Therefore, while neem trees could create greenery and grow on arid land, they do not offer a long-term solution for soil retention and combating desertification.

Along the Cà Ná - Mũi Dinh route in the coastal areas of Thuận Nam and Ninh Phước districts, thanh thất trees have been sprouting green buds and branches, with some reaching over five metres in height.

These trees are not consumed by livestock, but their straight trunks allow shrubs and vines to grow beneath them, providing additional fodder for grazing animals.

The Thuận Nam Coastal Protection Forest Management Board said in 2015, hundreds of workers were mobilised to carry thanh thất saplings from nurseries to 10-hectare planting sites, trekking dozens of kilometres through forest paths.

TREES GALORE: Thanh thất trees are thriving in the Thuận Nam Coastal Protection Forest in Thuận Nam District, Ninh Thuận Province. VNA/VNS Photos Nguyễn Thành

To date, over 568 hectares of thanh thất have been planted across three communes. The survival rate of the trees exceeds 90 per cent compared to the initial planting density, and they continue to grow well even during dry seasons.

Lê Xuân Hòa, head of the Thuận Nam Coastal Protection Forest Management Board, said that after eight years of trial planting, the thanh thất tree was gradually greening the barren rocky mountains in the southern part of the province.

Planting thanh thất has also helped create groundwater sources, increase forest cover and provide conditions for livestock grazing under the forest canopy, according to the official. This development opens new prospects for selecting promising tree species for forest restoration in Ninh Thuận and the entire south-central region.

To date, Ninh Thuận Province has over 1,200 hectares of forest planted with thanh thất. These trees are now present in most forests in Ninh Thuận, especially in the coastal rocky forests stretching from Thuận Nam district to Núi Chúa in Ninh Hải and Thuận Bắc districts.

More fruit trees in home gardens

To cope with unfavourable climate conditions, more than ten years ago, Ninh Thuận began to actively convert low-yield rice fields and mixed gardens to cultivate dry crops and fruit trees. This transformation was coupled with the application of science and technology to form concentrated commodity production areas with high economic value.

Currently, the fruit orchards in Ninh Thuận cover approximately 5,951 hectares, concentrated around Ninh Phước, Ninh Sơn, Thuận Nam districts and Phan Rang-Tháp Chàm City.

A farm owned by Tống Minh Hoàng growing South Korean-originated Shine Muscat grapes in Phước Thuận Commune, Ninh Phước District. VNA/VNS Photo Nguyễn Thành

In addition to grapes, the region's typical fruit, expanded cultivation areas are planted with apples, green-skinned pomelos, avocados, mangosteens, rambutans, jackfruits and mangoes.

This crop diversification has resulted in income levels many times higher than those from previous rice and mixed garden farming. Many previously barren lands in Ninh Thuận have been developed into orchard tourism models, helping farmers find sustainable ways to escape poverty and build a more prosperous homeland.

Ninh Thuận Province currently has over 200,000 hectares of forest and forest land, including 160,400 hectares of forested land and nearly 40,000 hectares of non-forested land.

To effectively manage and protect forests, since 2016, forest management units in Ninh Thuận have contracted 52,200 hectares of forest to community groups and households for protection. They receive support ranging from VNĐ300,000-400,000 per hectare per year.

With thousands of hectares of forest under protection contracts, residents have planted various fruit trees lsuch as pomelos and mangosteens and raised cattle, generating hundreds of millions of đồng annually and significantly improving their living standards.

According to the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, to enhance the effectiveness of afforestation, various climate-adaptive species such as neem, thanh thất, hybrid acacia, ironwood, cashew and economically valuable auxiliary trees like jackfruit, avocado and pomelo, have been planted on previously barren lands and on rocky mountains.

The province’s agricultural sector uses a significantly lower amount of water, by way of crop conversion, down by 25-30 per cent compared to rice cultivation and it limits groundwater extraction while protecting water reserves for household use, livestock and subsequent crop production. – VNS