A lake­side town pros­pers by tap­ping lo­cal po­ten­tial and pro­tect­ing the en­vi­ron­ment

Beijing Review - - COVER STORY - By Ge Li­jun

il­lagers liv­ing in the town of Zhili in Huzhou City, east China’s Zhe­jiang Prov­ince, have seen ma­jor changes tak­ing place in their home­town in re­cent years. The sky and rivers, they say, are clearer, and the land greener than be­fore.

Lu Yunqi, Sec­re­tary of the vil­lage branch of the Com­mu­nist Party of China (CPC) of Wupu, a vil­lage un­der the ju­ris­dic­tion of Zhili, has wit­nessed changes in its eco­nomic for­tunes as well. “Now there is not a sin­gle low-in­come fam­ily in our vil­lage,” he said.

Ac­cord­ing to Lu, few vil­lagers are in­volved in agri­cul­ture in the vil­lages of Zhili, with most of the young and mid­dle-aged pop­u­la­tion work­ing in big ci­ties else­where in the prov­ince or at lo­cal chil­dren’s wear man­u­fac­tur­ing work­shops, while se­nior vil­lagers are en­gaged in aqua­cul­ture and the pro­cess­ing of aquatic prod­ucts, with an av­er­age an­nual in­come of 40,000 yuan ($5,870) per per­son.

Ac­cord­ing to Yao Lian­hua, Deputy Sec­re­tary of the CPC Zhili Town­ship Com­mit­tee, since 2006, the town has ac­cel­er­ated steps to fos­ter beau­ti­ful vil­lages, es­pe­cially un­der the guid­ance of Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping, who was the Sec­re­tary of the CPC Zhe­jiang Pro­vin­cial Com­mit­tee when the drive be­gan.

“We have made ef­forts in the de­vel­op­ment of in­dus­tries suited to lo­cal con­di­tions and fo­cused on im­prov­ing the en­vi­ron­ment so as to fur­ther cul­ti­vate a pleas­ant coun­try­side and en­hance peo­ple’s well-be­ing,” Yao said.

Fish­ing in­dus­try

Lo­cated on the south bank of the Taihu Lake, the third largest fresh­wa­ter lake in China, Zhili has de­vel­oped its wa­ter-re­lated in­dus­tries in re­cent years. The area is home to mul­ti­ple fish- eries, mak­ing it an ideal place for aqua­cul­ture. The crabs and shrimps raised on lo­cal aquatic farms are of pre­mium qual­ity and pop­u­lar na­tion­wide.

Ac­cord­ing to Lu, since the be­gin­ning of re­form and open­ing up in 1978, many of the re­sources in his vil­lage have been suc­cess­fully in­te­grated. At first, the land went to waste as vil­lagers chose to in­stead earn a liv­ing in the chil­dren’s wear in­dus­try, but later the area’s land re­sources were con­sol­i­dated and re­al­lo­cated to fish farm­ers for aqua­cul­ture.

Yet, grad­u­ally lo­cal peo­ple re­al­ized that they could not make se­ri­ous prof­its merely through tra­di­tional farm­ing. Only by el­e­vat­ing the added value of prod­ucts and ex­pand­ing their busi­nesses could they achieve a sub­stan­tial in­crease in rev­enue. “We needed to make it big­ger in or­der to gen­er­ate higher prof­its,” Lu said.

Wu Rongfeng from the vil­lage of Shanglin has ben­e­fited from this shift in pol­icy. In 2000, he con­tracted 1.2 hectares of fish­ery with a pro­duc­tion value of 40,000 yuan and an­nual prof­its of over 20,000 yuan ($2,935). At the start, he raised only the most com­mon fish and fed them aquatic plants with­out any con­sid­er­a­tion of di­etary need of fish.

How­ever, things be­gan to change in 2010 as Wu be­gan tak­ing classes at a lo­cal agri­cul­tural school. Af­ter re­ceiv­ing spe­cial­ized guid­ance, he be­gan rais­ing the lu­cra­tive Chi­nese perch. In March 2011, he es­tab­lished his own eco-agri­cul­ture com­pany and reg­is­tered a trade­mark un­der the name Yudage, which lit­er­ally means “big brother fish­er­man” in Chi­nese.

“In 2014, we de­vel­oped a model that dou­bled our an­nual pro­duc­tion, and our prof­its have also dou­bled since then,” Wu told Bei­jing Re­view.

To­day, Wu em­ploys over 20 mem­bers of staff. In ad­di­tion to an an­nual in­come of 50,000 yuan ($7,337), the em­ploy­ees can also earn an end-of-year bonus based on the com­pany’s prof­its. Dur­ing the peak sea­son from June to Septem­ber, Wu hires more than 30 tem­po­rary work­ers, usu­ally lo­cal vil­lagers.

Wu’s com­pany adopts a “co­op­er­a­tive plus farm­ers” model. There are 53 mem­ber house­holds in the co­op­er­a­tive, with 366.67 hectares of fish­pond. Th­ese house­holds also be­came share­hold­ers of the co­op­er­a­tive. More than 500 other house­holds with over 2,660 hectares of fish­eries have also ben­e­fited from the op­er­a­tion. Last year, the com­pany’s rev­enue ex­ceeded 20 mil­lion yuan ($2.94 mil­lion), of which 2 mil­lion yuan ($294,000) was profit.

In ad­di­tion to aqua­cul­ture, vil­lages in Zhili are ex­plor­ing other busi­ness mod­els based on their nat­u­ral ad­van­tages. One such ven­ture prov­ing par­tic­u­larly suc­cess­ful is tourism.

Yi­gao is a vil­lage which was once fa­mous for ser­i­cul­ture, the farm­ing of silk­worms for the pro­duc­tion of silk. Dur­ing its hey­day, the en­tire vil­lage could yield 150 tons of silk­worm co­coons, but af­ter the coun­try’s econ­omy be­gan to take off in the 1980s, Yi­gao lagged be­hind due to its ge­o­graphic re­mote­ness. As the rest of Zhili be­came fa­mous for the man­u­fac­ture of chil­dren’s cloth­ing, Yi­gao Vil­lage failed to hitch a ride on the coat­tails of this new in­dus­try. Lo­cal vil­lagers be­gan to won­der how they could re­vi­tal­ize their once proud vil­lage with a his­tory of more than 1,000 years.

In 2016, an ancient drainage sys­tem be­side the Taihu Lake, the Lougang Ir­ri­ga­tion Pro­ject, was se­lected as an ex­am­ple of World Ir­ri­ga­tion Pro­ject Her­itage. Yi­gao, lo­cated at a ma­jor junc­ture of the pro­ject and it­self a typ­i­cal ex­am­ple of Lougang cul­ture, seized the op­por­tu­nity and be­gan to de­velop its tourism in­dus­try. The ancient vil­lage re­stored its orig­i­nal ap­pear­ance and be­gan to at­tract vis­i­tors from around the coun­try. This year, it has al­ready re­ceived more than 20,000 vis­its.

Boom­ing tourism has brought new op­por­tu­ni­ties, al­low­ing vil­lagers to seek new em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties and even start their own busi­nesses.

Stay-at-home re­tirees have be­come waiters and wait­resses at home­s­tay ho­tels, earn­ing around 3,000 yuan ($440) a month, while other vil­lagers run restau­rants serv­ing lo­cal spe­cial­ties, which have be­come pop­u­lar among tourists to Yi­gao.

“We want to join hands with neigh­bor­ing vil­lages and de­velop tourism to­gether.

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