Cooperative’s sweet success raises families’ living standards
When he left the army in 1997, Zhong Liangsheng took a job with the forestry administration in Wuping county, Fujian province. Four years later, he was made redundant as a result of reform of the forestry system that was being carried out across the county.
Now, Zhong, a loser in the early period of reform, is not only benefiting from the ongoing changes, but he is also helping dozens of families who are impoverished or disadvantaged by disability to escape the poverty trap.
When he began working for the forestry administration, Zhong, 42, thought he had gained an “iron rice bowl” — a job for life with a government department. When he was laid off, his only way of earning a living was to utilize the cooking skills he had learned in the army.
He opened a restaurant, but it was a tough life, and he often worked until after midnight taking care of his business.
The schedule was so exhausting that Zhong was desperate to quit. The solution to his problem came in 2006, when ill health forced his father to quit his beekeeping business. He asked Zhong to take over.
“The improvement in the local ecosystem meant there were big opportunities in beekeeping, as China has seen rising demand for organic food, including honey,” Zhong said.
Although heavy snow in 2008 killed many of his bees and brought a loss, his persistence quickly paid off. In his second year, he harvested more than 1 metric ton of honey and earned 100,000 yuan ($14,700).
In 2009, Zhong decided to involve more people in the beekeeping trade. He realized that the scale of beekeeping in Wuping was limited, which made it difficult to build a brand and raise sales number.
In 2011, with government support, he established a beekeeping cooperative to offer help to the impoverished and have benefited 150 families so far.
The first group he chose to approach was the disabled. “As a disadvantaged group, it can be hard for disabled people to make a living, especially in the rural areas. Beekeeping is not too taxing, so it’s a suitable job for them,” he said.
Zhong’s idea coincided with the county government’s plan to develop sectors related to the local forestry industry.
The disabled people who joined only had to invest onethird of the money needed to start their businesses, while the Wuping Disabled Persons’ Association provided another third.
The remaining one-third came in the form of a loan from the cooperative. The members repay the loan in honey, which is then sold on, according to Zhong, who added that the cooperative provides training and the necessary equipment, and helps members to sell their produce.
Wu Xiangcai, who lost three fingers of his right hand in an accident, is one of those who has benefited. Having made an initial investment of 2,200 yuan, the 45-year-old farmer earned more than 10,000 yuan in 2011, and now makes at least 60,000 yuan a year.
“Without the cooperative’s help I would not have been able to start my own business and make so much money,” he said.
According to Zhong Wansheng, Zhong Liangsheng’s younger brother who helps to manage the cooperative, the number of families involved has risen to 228, including 56 who lived below the poverty line and 143 with disabled members. Last year, the cooperative generated revenue of 18 million yuan.
The Wuping government said the county’s forestry-related economy, including beekeeping, was worth 2.4 billion yuan last year, a rise of nearly 23 percent from 2015.
In the past three years, the development of the forestryrelated economy and other activities aimed at raising living standards have seen 9,352 — more than 57 percent — of the 21,873 people in the county designated as impoverished lifted out of poverty.
A bird’s-eye view of part of the forest that covers Wuping.