A new tomorrow
A raft of measures has been introduced to raise living standards in the remote, mountainous area. Zhang Yuchen reports from Tianshui, Gansu province.
Numerous measures have been introduced to raise the standard of living in remote, mountainous Tianshui, Gansu province, one of China’s poorest areas.
Abright smile played across Fang Najia’s tanned, wrinkled face as she explained the measures being taken to help her family escape the poverty trap.
The 50-something from Yawan, a village in Gongchang county in the south of Gansu, one of China’s poorest provinces, is one of millions of beneficiaries of a poverty-alleviation program that began in 2013.
Few outsiders would describe Fang’s family of four, whose details were entered in a poverty database last year, as impoverished. Unlike their less-prosperous neighbors, the family’s courtyard contains three straw-and-mud houses, but as average villagers their combined income is only about 3,000 yuan ($450) a month.
While that’s just about enough to live on, it isn’t enough to lift the burden of the 8,000 yuan Feng’s daughter has to pay every year to attend a university in the eastern province of Jiangxi.
After Gongchang’s leaders had collected information about the situations of households across the county to compile the poverty database, Fang’s family was deemed eligible to receive aid from a program designed to help people who are being pushed into poverty by the cost of higher education, or through illness and disability.
Under the program, Fang’s daughter is permitted to collect an annual loan of 10,000 yuan from a special education aid program operated by the county government. The loan, which will be interest free until she graduates and starts work, means she can continue her studies.
For their part, Fang and her husband can claim a low-interest, five-year loan of 50,000 yuan. If they invest the money in a mushroom-cultivation project in the village, the family will receive 4,000 yuan at the end of the year. When the contract expires, the family can repay the original sum, plus a small amount of interest, and arrange another loan. Together, the programs account for 15 percent of the county’s annual budget.
Zhang Wengang, deputy head of Gongchang, said that before the project began, every person in the county classified as impoverished was allotted the national 100 yuan minimum monthly living allowance, which was a drain on resources and provided no lasting solutions.
Fang’s family has enjoyed support from similar programs organized by different levels of the local government, which has been working to alleviate poverty since 2013, when President Xi Jinping visited the region and demanded better conditions for the rural poor.
Gansu has a population of nearly 26 million, and at the time of Xi’s visit nearly 7 million people had been assessed as living in poverty. By the end of last year, after the measures started to take effect, the number had fallen to about 3 million, a step towards achieving the target of zero poverty nationwide by 2020, as outlined in the 13th Five-YearPlan (2016-20).
To ensure resources are targeted at those in greatest need, the Gansu government intends to build a comprehensive database of the provincial poor. The guaranteed minimum income is being extended to a larger number of families, and a range of new social security policies is being introduced in areas such as education, health and housing.
“When I was assigned tomy post nine years ago, I realized that conditions have remained unchanged for decades in some mountain villages,” said Diao Xiaoling, a researcher with the publicity department of the Gansu office of poverty alleviation and development. “Now, things have really changed: people no longer dress in tattered clothes, houses are being renovated, residents are being relocated and new infrastructure is under construction — even people’s attitudes have changed.”
Until recently, Zeng Xueyi didn’t know how to access online shopping portals on his low-end smartphone. Since his teenage years, the 60-yearold resident of Chengxian county in the city of Longnan, has earned a living by raising honeybees and selling the honey to his neighbors.
Last year, a concrete road was built to link Zeng’s remote mountain village with a small road about two-hours away that connects with a major highway. The improved communications and transportation links convinced Zeng to expand his business. Now, after a few lessons from his adopted son on how to use the internet, he is attempting to exploit e-commerce opportunities via online dealers.
In the old days Zeng earned about 0.5 yuan for each kilogram of honey he produced, but now the same amount sells for 50 to 80 yuan via online channels. Two traditional hives have housed Zeng’s bees for the majority of his career, but seeking improved productivity he has taken out a small loan from an aid program and invested in 20 modern hives, which will allow him to raise more bees.
He has also contacted local e-commerce coaches— mostly college graduates who have been assigned to work as assistant village leaders — for advice about getting his produce to a wider audience.
“When we paved the road and gave them a new direction, the villagers’ enthusiasm was stimulated,” said Diao, the researcher. “They will seek every opportunity to improve their lives. Poverty in the past never destroyed their hopes of prosperity in the future.”
Gu Qing, assistant country director of poverty, equity and governance at the United Nations Development Programme in China, said new measures must be devised to tackle the fundamental problems.
“To a certain extent, poverty reduction is like picking fruit on a tree. The low-hanging fruits ofpoverty-reductionhave already been picked, so now we need to pick the high-hanging fruits and address the hardcore issues of poverty,” she said.
While Fang Najia is hoping her family’s prospects will further improve when her daughter graduates from college, Zeng Xueyi is still faced with uncertainty.
He has collected his honey harvest twice since summer began, but so far he hasn’t been approached by middlemen from online sales channels.
“Making a living like this isn’t as easy as it appears, but I will persevere — it’s the new way,” he said.
Liu Xiaoyang, a vegetable farmer in Chengxian, Gansu province, works in his greenhouse alongside fellow villagers.
Chengxian villager Su Yanyan shows her online store on her smartphone. Many local famers have improved their standards of living through e-commerce.
A member of staff at Anhui’s Jinzhai county government displays the Gansu poverty database,