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New life springs forth in Kubuqi desert


In October 2016, the Lagos State government in Southwest Nigeria began a massive clearance of shanties in the state. Governor Akinwunmi Ambode cited the need to rid the state of criminals as the major reason for the demolition of the state’s many, often sprawling, waterfront slums.

When the demolition team was through with Otodo Gbame, one of the shanty towns the state authorities said was a haven for hoodlums, it left in its wake tales of woes. It is believed that the state would end up building a new town in the place of Otodo Gbame sooner or later.


Most often than not, large-scale constructions, especially of new towns and estates come with pains and groans for the people who have to give way. While government do pay compensations to land or house owners, but when they do come, it is either they are late or inadequate.

Beyond the lost of physical properties, displacement of a people from a place they have called home for a very long time could have far-reaching psychological impacts.

But in the harsh bowel of Kubuqi desert where Tserenbaabuu and his parents call home, construction did not bring along with it pain. In fact, When Elion Resources Group began construction of new town in the desert in 2006, a new lease of life was given to Tserenbaabuu’s parents who were living in a tiny house and had three mouths to feed, depending solely on their income as herdsmen.

Today, Tserenbaabuu’s dream of having enough food to eat and clothes to wear have not only been realised, he and his family now live in better conditions.


His parents, happier than when they were herdsmen, now run a restaurant in the new town. Mongolian restaurants are popular with tourists, serving up authentic lamb dishes, milk tea and wines amid the hospitality of the grassland. During peak seasons, the couple can make three or four thousand yuan a day (USD $450 to $600), a sum they could hardly have dreamed of before the town was built.

The town’s new and spacious houses had road access, electricity and running water – a huge improvement in living standards. The relocation project also created opportunities for herdsmen to find employment or start their own businesses.

The construction of the new town came after Elion’s founder, Wang Wenbiao, bought Hangjinqi Saltworks located in the heart of the desert in 1988.

Salt produced at the company had to be transported to the closest train station located at a point 65 kilometres away through a 350-kilometre roundabout route. This is because there was no direct route through the desert.
And when there were frequent sandstorms, no form of transportation would take place. This was making it difficult for Wenbiao to revive the dying company he had bought.

Finding a conducive means of transport in the desert has always been a problem, Tserenbaabuu says. His family had to ride camels to the nearest town some 30 miles away to buy essential items. The journey to the market and back took three full days.

But Wenbiao knew he had to create a direct route through the desert. A road he built was buried by the desert sand. He thought taming the desert itself was key to the survival of his business. Thus began the private-public partnership that has, after almost three decades, greened a third of the Kubuqi Desert, with benefits accruing to both local community and Elion.

With the road in place, Tserenbaabuu works with two neighbours to offer adventurous tourists off-road drives across the desert sands and lakesides. They have 16 off-road vehicles and hire more than ten professional drivers. After just two years of operation, they have already recouped their investment.


The impact and success of the Kubuqi Model, which has helped to green one-third of the 18,600 sq km of sand dunes that comprise the Kubuqi desert, have not been restricted to the desert. In 2013, Wang Wenbiao was awarded the first “Global Dryland Champion” award by the United Nations during the Eleventh UNCCD Conference of the Parties in Namibia.

And at the sixth Kubuqi International Desert Forum, held from July 28 to July 30 in the Kubuqi Desert, the Model was lauded by the international community.

In a world where bare-faced capitalism has become the cornerstone of businesses and governmental entities, the Kubuqi model is a testimony to the fact a business can thrive while genuinely empowering its host community.

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