Alipay’s Ant Forest Responds to Online Query Regarding Planted Trees: Haloxylon Species is Only Short Due to Aridity

Ant Forest, a green and low-carbon afforestation program launched by China’s top e-payment app Alipay in 2016, has become popular all over the country.

However, one Weibo user posted a video recently, claiming that after visiting an Ant Forest planting area in the Alashan Desert, Inner Mongolia, it was found that the area around the planting sign was all bare desert. The user wrote that the Haloxylon saplings looked like shallots and were scattered on the ground, and that no forest could be seen.

(Haloxylon saplings in Alashan region. Source: Ant Forest)

The Weibo user questioned that Alipay did not plant trees in the desert at all, or did not seriously maintain the trees they planted. Once the video was released, it caused heated online discussion.

On September 13, a staff member of the local forestry and grassland administration said that the trees had indeed been deliberately planted. The employee affirmed that the Haloxylon trees in question are relatively small, and that the information reported on the Internet was untrue.

Ant Forest then made an announcement on the evening of September 13, saying, “Many netizens are concerned about the No.277 forest located in Alashan. After receiving feedback from netizens, our staff rushed to the scene to verify the situation and took a live video this morning.”

Ant Forest said that the Haloxylon trees were all planted in No.277 forest. Due to the lack of precipitation in Alashan area, the tree pits are evenly distributed in a 3×5 meter grid, according to the requirements of ecological carrying capacity. The possible number of afforestation trees per “mu” (666.7 square metres) is only about 45, so the planting density will be sparse.

In addition, Haloxylon is a low shrub suitable for desert areas, which looks short but has deep roots, which is not obvious from a distance.

In the evening, the Weibo user who released the video issued an apology statement, saying that there were mistakes made in reviewing and releasing the video.

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In August, 2016, Alipay officially launched its afforestation program Ant Forest. The carbon emissions saved by Alipay users walking instead of driving, paying utilities and purchasing tickets online will be calculated as virtual “green energy,” which will then be used to raise virtual trees in the app. After the virtual tree grows up, Alipay Ant Forest and its public welfare partners will plant a real tree in the earth, or guard the corresponding area of protected land, so as to cultivate and motivate users’ low-carbon, environmentally friendly behavior. 

It is reported that Alipay has encouraged 200 million users to participate in the Ant Forest program and has planted more than one million Haloxylon trees in the Alashan region of Inner Mongolia.