12 veterans create an oasis on dry land

Around China

As the moon climbs above the treetops in a thick twilight, Li Kai's tree farm stands still in northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.

XinhuaUpdated: August 3, 2018

As the moon climbs above the treetops in a thick twilight, Li Kai's tree farm stands still in northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.

Li Kai, a veteran soldier, plants a tree. [Photo/Xinhua]

Li, 58, owns the tree farm with 11 veteran soldiers who he once served with. Together they form a band of brothers each fiercely committed to their cause.

"I'm so happy to see the dry land of the past become a tree farm today. Our eight years of efforts finally paid off," Li said.

Li joined the army aged 19 and returned to his hometown in Yinchuan, capital of Ningxia, three years later. After several ups and downs, he opened his own automobile trading company.

"The company ran well and I thought my life might go on like that, but it did not," Li said.

In 2010 Li made a bold decision. With the support of his fellow veterans, he contracted 18 hectares of wasteland in Yinchuan to start a tree farm.

"Planting trees is a national initiative, and I want to make my contribution," Li said.

However, building an oasis on dry land is not easy. The barren land, with a lower groundwater level and permeable soil, could barely grow trees.

"Many other contractors before me gave up and left. But once a soldier, always a soldier. The spirit of being a soldier compelled me to fight on," he said.

Zhang Qiang, one of Li's fellow veterans, soon came to help. "I came here not only to make a living, but because I trust old Li as he is a man of responsibility," Zhang said.

Then the hard battle started.

Water was scarce on the wasteland. Li had to draw water from the Yellow River six km away and build a drip irrigation system to save water.

"Sand often blocked dripping pipes. We often spent the whole day dredging them," Li said.

At night, they slept in a six-square-meter cabin roofed with a piece of plastic cloth, exhausted. Though the plants had water, the men often had to walk three km just to fetch their own drinking water.

"We used to sing a milliary song 'Union is Strength' in our training. Now we carried forward the spirit of solidarity into the fight of forestation," veteran Hu Cheng said.

Hu said whenever they felt tired and bored, they sang the song to cheer themselves up. "Encouragement from brotherhood helped us pull through those hard days."

Perseverance characterizes a soldier, and that is the case with veteran Luo Shouhai who suffered colon cancer for a long time, but was not willing to go to hospital for medical treatment as he wanted to fight with his brothers to green the bare land.

"Every time he was forced to go to hospital for an operation, he said he hated to be a deserter. I was once a soldier, and I know how he felt," said Chen Hai, head of the tree farm.

Over the past eight years, the veterans have planted more than 400,000 poplars, willows and pines, and dug a fishpond of 1.3 hectares.

In May, the tree farm was even approved to run farm-related tourism. Li has also started a cooperative, raising 4,000 roosters and 2,000 rabbits to help increase the income of poor villagers nearby.

"Things are going well now. We veterans will do more to benefit the people," Li said.