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Workers build reticular barriers along sand dunes in the Tengger Desert in Inner Mongolia. China Daily

Lou Zhiping is working on a project to combat desertification in northwestern China, thousands of miles from his hometown in Shengzhou, Zhejiang province.

The 72-year-old has invented a long reticular barrier fixed vertically along the top of a dune. The barrier is a screen made of two layers of mesh fastened by iron threads and supported by a wooden bracket.

When the wind blows, sand sifts through the mesh and settles between the two layers, transforming the screen into sandbags that prevent the whole barrier from falling down and being removed by wind or sand.

The development of the barrier has involved 12 years of research into desertification control in the Ningxia Hui autonomous region, Qinghai province and the Inner Mongolia autonomous region, areas severely affected by land degradation.

"I hope to provide a new way of combating desertification worldwide, reducing the cost of desertification control and gradually solving this serious environmental issue," Lou said.

Once a farmer in his hometown, Lou is a proven inventor. Before he shifted his interest to desertification control, he spent 15 years focusing on gardening and landscaping. One of his previous inventions involved growing plants on vertical walls.

In 2003, his involvement in landscaping and interest in ecological restoration inspired him to visit a desert in Inner Mongolia.

"I was shocked by the desert, a barren area where little precipitation occurred, in Dengkou county," he said. "All of the pear trees, which were more than 10 meters tall, were buried under the sand. Few treetops could be seen in the dunes."

Recalling the experience as "thrilling and devastating", Lou has since devoted his time to developing simple and quick techniques to stop the moving dunes.

He became a frequent traveler to the deserts in northwestern China in the years after his initial visit. Few, including his family, knew of his intentions. During his desert trips, he was asked the purpose of his visits. His answer was met with doubt and ridicule.