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Exploring best practices of combating desertification in Horqin Sandy Land, Northern China—A sound feedback on a mid-term evaluation
 An independent evaluation team visited Sanyijing forest farm of Aohan Banner in Chifeng Municipality for a mid-term evaluation (MTE) on the project “Demonstration Project of Vegetation Restoration and Management and Utilization of Forest Resources in Greater Central Asia phase II (Chifeng sites) [2019P4-INM]” during 6-8 September 2021 to check the project performance, provide guidance and recommendations to the remaining project activities. With document review and interviews followed by the field visit to the project sites, the project received positive feedback from the evaluation team.

 
Mid-term evaluation meeting in Aohan Forestry and Grassland Administration

 
Since 2017, APFNet has launched the project “Demonstration Project of Vegetation Restoration and Management and Utilization of Forest Resources in Greater Central Asia (Chifeng sites) [2017P1-INM]” in Sanyijing forest farm of Aohan Banner in Chifeng Municipality, Inner Mongolia. The project site, located in the famous Horqin Sandy Land, is characterized by extremely dry weather, desertification, and low vegetation coverage which have led to poor livelihoods, declining species diversity, and sand storms in the past decades. To promote forest restoration, combat desertification, and improve ecological and economic benefits in the region, APFNet has adopted diverse strategies such as desertification prevention and control, vegetation restoration, and sand industry. By building demonstration zones with a collection of various advanced and mature technologies, the project has showcased the typical models of vegetation restoration, forest management, and utilization of forest resources in similar areas in the Greater Central Asia.
Building upon the success of the first phase of the project, the second phase was officially launched in May 2020 for a 3-year duration. The total fund of project is $1,456,000, among which $1,148,000 is supported by APFNet. In its second phase, the objectives were expanded to enlarge the demonstration scope of the project and scale up the comprehensive benefits and effects of the project phase I. Phase II of the project focuses especially on increasing the quality of sandy land ecosystem, improving the management capacity of the forest farm, expanding the multi-functional effects and comprehensive benefits of the forests, preventing and controlling desertification, and increasing the living standard of farmers. Key activities includes building demonstration forests for vegetation restoration in semi-arid desertification area, transforming ecologically and economically ineffective forests, building a  sandy-land wood demonstration park and a desertification achievements exhibition room. Phase II also aims to build a demonstration room with a collection of mature technologies and promote regional vegetation recovery.
 
  
Demonstration forest mixed with coniferous and broadleaf trees in semi-arid area
 
So far, most of the activities planned have been successfully undertaken and are on schedule. As of September 2021, the project team has established a 72.34 hm2 demonstration forest for vegetation restoration in semi-arid desertification area, established a demonstration forest for inefficient forest transformation, and built a 10 hm2 sandy-land wood demonstration park showcasing more than 40 plant species. Meanwhile, the main construction of a 500m2 exhibition room has been completed, and the showroom is planned to be finished within the year, showcasing the desertification prevention and control achievements. Moreover, capacity building activities have been well conducted in the first year of the project, with over 150 forest practitioners participating the technical training related to inefficient forest transformation and afforestation technology. 

 
Demonstration for sand-crossing road shelter forest (left), field visit in the project site (right)
 
The review team gave a high rating on the project performance. Following the field visits and communication with the local authority, the review team suggested to further strengthen project summary and dissemination on the basis of the existing outputs. The review team also suggested to continue facilitating data collection for project impact monitoring and tracking and provide evident-based demonstration to similar economies in the Greater Central Asia.