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.

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - Con­tact the writer at zhangyuchen@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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.

Last­ing so­lu­tions

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.”

On­line op­por­tu­ni­ties

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.

ZHANG MENG/XIN­HUA

Liu Xiaoyang, a veg­etable farmer in Chengx­ian, Gansu prov­ince, works in his green­house along­side fel­low vil­lagers.

XIAO ZHENGQIANG/XIN­HUA

Chengx­ian vil­lager Su Yanyan shows her on­line store on her smart­phone. Many lo­cal famers have im­proved their stan­dards of liv­ing through e-com­merce.

LIU JUNXI/XIN­HUA

A mem­ber of staff at An­hui’s Jinzhai county govern­ment dis­plays the Gansu poverty data­base,

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