Mr. Kunio Takami has been working on greening and afforestation projects in China for 23 years. He spends around 100 days a year in Shanxi Province, busily checking progress to ensure that cooperation with Chinese partners goes smoothly and to help Japanese volunteers on study tours.
Under the slogan “Environment has no borders,” the group began in 1992 with just a few members. Working together with locals in Datong, Shanxi, 300 km west of Beijing, it has tackled the city’s desertification problems by planting 18.8 million saplings to date on 5,600 ha of land.
The group’s work has been praised as a successful example of international cooperation, receiving both the Foreign Minister’s Commendation from Japan and an environmental award from China in 2012. However, there were many difficulties and repeated setbacks to overcome in the early days.
The local environment is so harsh there is said to be “drought nine years out of every ten,” and early tree-planting activities faltered. The group could not find an appropriate planting method. “We were at a loss many times, standing in front of a devastated plantation,” Mr. Takami explains.
One of the keys to turning things around was building a strong relationship of trust with locals. Through such activities as extensive visits to farming villages, the group developed extremely close relationships with the community. At last, an office was established in Datong so that Chinese specialists could work together with Mr. Takami and other group members. After this, communication and teamwork between the two sides significantly improved. Also key was the participation of a Japanese plant researcher. His suggestion to use symbiosis between fungi and saplings to improve water absorption helped the roots to grow better, increasing the overall planting success rate. This generated huge interest among locals, with many commenting that they had never seen such healthy saplings.
Some of the pine saplings that the group planted are now seven-meter-high trees. The number of national and provincial projects is also growing rapidly, and the bare mountainside, which once dominated Datong’s scenery as far as the eye could see, is getting greener every year.
More than 3,600 Japanese volunteers have taken part in the project. Looking back, Mr. Takami says, “It seems like a miracle that we have been doing this for twenty years.” He adds, “Enthusiasm for greening is finally growing in China. Having created human bonds between Japan and China, we cannot stop our activities now.” And it is not only trees that have taken root: Mr. Takami and the group have helped to grow deeply rooted and flourishing connections between the two countries as well.
Executive Director of the Osaka NPO Green Earth Network. Born in Tottori Prefecture. After leaving the University of Tokyo, he promoted Japan-China exchange in the private sector. He was involved with founding Green Earth Network, becoming its executive director in 1994.