Janet Ranganathan is the vice president for science and research at the World Resources Institute (WRI). Before becoming vice president, Ranganathan directed WRI’s People and Ecosystems Program. Within that program, she launched an initiative to mainstream ecosystem services in public and private sector development decisions.

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For centuries, Minqin Oasis, along the Silk Road in northwestern China, provided a welcome port of call to travelers, serving as a natural barrier against the unremitting dryness of the Tengger and Badain Jaran deserts. That changed in the 1950s, when Chairman Mao implemented a national plan to boost food production. The resulting cultivation, …

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