Co­op­er­a­tive’s sweet suc­cess raises fam­i­lies’ liv­ing stan­dards

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CHINA - By HOU LIQIANG and HU MEIDONG

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.

Zhong Liang­sheng

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