SHIJIAZHUANG -- Forest rangers in northern China's Saihanba Forest Farm recently received a prestigious UN environment award.
On Tuesday, Saihanba afforestation community in Inner Mongolia scooped the UN Champions of the Earth Award for its outstanding contribution to restoration of degraded landscapes.
"As an ordinary worker at the farm, I am immensely encouraged by the award," said fire-lookout Zhao Fuzhou.
"The award should be credited to three generations of foresters," said Zhao Zhenyu, 78, one of Saihanba's first foresters, who began planting trees on what was then a piece of barren land in the early 1960s.
After decades of hard work, Saihanba is now a vast forest covering about 93,000 hectares and an important ecological shield for Beijing and Tianjin.
Every year the forest in Saihanba purifies 137 million cubic meters of water and delivers half a million tons of oxygen.
"Fifty-five years of afforestation efforts tell us that when one generation of foresters after another spares no efforts to improve the environment they will succeed," Zhao Zhenyu said.
Erik Solheim, executive director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), hailed Saihanba community for its pioneering innovation, saying that cost effective grassroots initiatives could reclaim degraded landscapes.
"The Saihanba afforestation community has transformed degraded land into lush green paradise -- part of a new Great Wall of vegetation that will play a part in helping protect millions from air pollution and preserving precious water supplies," Solheim said.
The international acclaim has made Saihanba's foresters feel that they shoulder greater responsibilities in afforestation to contribute to a greener world.
"Winning acknowledgement from UNEP marked a new starting point for our work, and we will redouble our efforts to take good care of the green treasure," said An Changming, deputy Party chief of the Saihanba Forest Farm.
In 2016, the restored forest in Saihanba stimulated green sectors of the economy, generating an estimated 15.1 million U.S. dollars.
Looking ahead, foresters at the farm are aiming to unleash greater potential of the forest in areas such as tourism, wind power, and carbon trading, bringing more ecological, social and economic benefits to residents in the region and beyond.