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Friday, 30 June, 2000, 17:32 GMT 18:32 UK
Chinese gourmets 'destroy desert'

The Hong Kong appetite for black moss, or fat choy, is contributing to China's desertification, conservationists have warned.

They are urging people to stop eating the algae, which is a vital part of the eco-system holding the north-west deserts together, according to a report in the Hong Kong iMail newspaper.



Hong Kong: Urged to cut out the black moss
Black moss is a popular delicacy at Lunar New Year, because the word in Chinese sounds like "wealth".

But environmentalists say it must be left alone if the deserts are to be contained.

The Conservancy Association has launched a campaign to persuade Hong Kong people not to eat the algae, which is found on the arid plains of Inner Mongolia, Ningxia, Shaanxi and Gansu provinces.

Lives ruined

Association General-Secretary Lister Cheung Lai-ping said demand for fat choy was ruining whole communities in northern China.

"Ten hectares of land have to be ripped up and displaced for just one small bag," she told Hong Kong iMail.

Ms Cheung said that, in order to harvest the algae, the land had to be torn up because fat choy roots grew three metres into the ground.

"The land is then useless for growing anything else. By displacing the sand, it blows everywhere, covering houses, machinery, people... it covers everything.''

"It ruins people's lives,'' she added. "No other farming can be done; it's like living under snow - except it's not snow, it's sand.''

Desert fears

China loses almost 2,500 square kilometres of land a year due to expanding deserts

A report in the official China Daily last November said desertification now affected 400 million people in the country.

Last month, the Chinese authorities launched an emergency programme to prevent the capital, Beijing, from being encroached upon by the nearby desert.

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06 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
China battles against sand invasion
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