In China, nearly 20% of land area is desert. As a result of a combination of poor farming practices, drought and increased demand for groundwater, desertification has become arguably China’s most pressing environmental challenge.

As the effects of increasing desertification grow more evident, the impacts are becoming widely felt. Farmers are being forced to abandon their land; the levels of rural poverty are rising; the intensity of sandstorms, which batter northern and western China each year, is growing ever more extreme.

The “desertification train” connects Beijing in the east to Kashgar in the west © Intrepid Travel

By traveling on China’s “desertification train” that bisects China’s major northern deserts (The Gobi, Taklamakan and Badain Jaran), photojournalist Sean Gallagher reports on the various implications of desertification on people’s lives across the breadth of China.

—Sean Gallagher