War­rior against poverty

Agri­cul­ture pro­fes­sor spreads tech­niques and hope to poor farm­ers in China and Africa

Global Times - Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - By Huang Jingjing

For the past two decades, Li Xiaoyun, a pro­fes­sor at the China Agri­cul­tural Univer­sity (CAU), has de­voted him­self to elim­i­nat­ing poverty in China’s ru­ral ar­eas. As he turns 55 years old, he shows no sign of stop­ping and has even ex­panded his reach to Africa.

A doc­tor­ate in crop ecol­ogy in CAU, Li be­gan to tour the coun­try’s poor ar­eas, tak­ing part in ef­forts to re­duce poverty in the mid-1990s. “I’m do­ing de­vel­op­ment stud­ies. Poverty re­lief is a ma­jor part of it. Only by go­ing into vil­lages and get­ting in­volved can we find so­lu­tions,” Li told the Global Times in a re­cent in­ter­view.

In 1994, Li and his col­leagues, for the first time, drew up a par­tic­i­pa­tory poverty re­duc­tion model, which was later adopted by the cen­tral gov­ern­ment and pro­moted across the coun­try.

In re­cent years, he has be­come more per­son­ally in­volved in this cause. He es­tab­lished a poverty al­le­vi­a­tion cen­ter in South­west China’s Yun­nan Prov­ince.

He also took his stu­dents to Tan­za­nia to teach the lo­cal farm­ers plant­ing tech­niques. In the past three years, the corn out­put in demon­stra­tion fields there has in­creased five folds.

His ded­i­ca­tion to poverty re­lief and char­ity spirit have earned him lots of awards and ti­tles, as well as many chances to speak at in­ter­na­tional meet­ings.

Li be­lieves that mu­tual aid is fun­da­men­tal to main­tain­ing ba­sic so­cial or­der. He likes to quote a verse from the renowned Tang Dy­nasty (618– 907) poet and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial Bai Juyi: “If every­body is warm like me, no­body in the world is cold,” say­ing this is also his wish.

First at­tempts

In 1994, he ap­plied for a 250,000 yuan ($36,000) grant from a Ger­man foun­da­tion to set up his first anti- poverty project in a town in Yan­qing county, Bei­jing.

Afraid that the funds would be em­bez­zled, he with­drew the cash from the bank and took it to the town him­self. At a meet­ing at­tended by the county head, town head and vil­lagers, he handed the money to the farm­ers. Un­der his guid­ance, the farm­ers used the money to build a foun­da­tion.

Fol­low­ing in­ter­na­tional prac­tice, Li asked that the funds be pri­or­i­tized for the poor­est fam­i­lies in or­der to buy breed­ing sheep. When the sheep gave birth, the lambs were to be given to other poor fam­i­lies.

How­ever, a se­ries of set­backs have led to the fail­ure of his first project. “Dur­ing that pe­riod, I was be­set by prob­lems such as who would be the first can­di­dates to re­ceive the funds, who would re­ceive the lambs and what to do when the sheep die,” Li re­called. Some farm­ers even went to Li’s home to make com­plaints and give tip-offs.

“The sud­den ar­rival of the funds broke the peace in the vil­lages. It also changed their gov­ern­ment struc­ture and I, an out­sider, be­came one of the power bro­kers,” he noted.

The lessons learned from this first at­tempt meant that his project in Yanchi county in Ningxia had some­what bet­ter re­sults. In­stead of be­com­ing per­son­ally in­volved, he al­lowed some lit­er­ate lo­cals to mon­i­tor the funds after giv­ing them spe­cific train­ing.

Ef­forts in Africa

Li has also ex­panded his re­search and ex­per­i­ment in poverty al­le­vi­a­tion to African coun­tries.

In 2011, the In­ter­na­tional Poverty Re­duc­tion Cen­ter in China launched an aid project in Tan­za­nia.

Li and his team played a ma­jor role. Be­sides lead­ing his team in in­tro­duc­ing Chi­nese agri­cul­tural de­vel­op­ment ex­pe­ri­ence to the coun­try’s of­fi­cials and farm­ers, Li also helped them nurture agri­cul­ture ex­perts and in­vited them to China to re­ceive short-term train­ing.

They also di­vided into groups to take charge of dif­fer­ent vil­lages and house­holds, teach­ing farm­ers about the plant­ing den­sity, weed­ing and anti-drought tech­niques.

After five years, the Chi­naTan­za­nia Agri­cul­tural Tech­nol­ogy Demon­stra­tion Cen­tre has set up a chicken farm, a paddy rice field and a vegetable gar­den, and has be­come a pop­u­lar agri­cul­ture learn­ing base for lo­cal stu­dents and farm­ers.

Sev­eral se­nior Tan­za­nian of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing the for­mer premier and pres­i­dent, have ac­knowl­edged Li’s con­tri­bu­tion.

“Chi­nese de­vel­op­ment can’t be re­al­ized if we only rely on in­put. Ex­er­cis­ing the in­ter­na­tional hu­man­i­tar­ian spirit will di­rectly af­fect Chi­nese ef­forts to build ties with the world,” Li wrote ear­lier.

The agri­cul­tural tech­nol­ogy as­sis­tance has been a ma­jor part of Chi­nese aids to Africa. In some African coun­tries, the short­age of food and cloth­ing has been curbed, but poverty still re­mains a huge prob­lem.

Li be­lieves it is im­por­tant for China to con­trib­ute to poverty re­duc­tion on the con­ti­nent.

“The aids to Africa can show China’s ex­er­cise of duty and re­spon­si­bil­ity, cre­ate a pos­i­tive im­age of China’s in­flu­ence, and re­lieve the pos­si­ble ob­sta­cles and con­stric­tion against us,” Li said.

He­bian ex­per­i­ment

His ef­forts in China con­tinue. In 2015, he tar­geted He­bian, a poor Yao eth­nic vil­lage in Mengla county in Yun­nan’s Xishuang­banna Dai Au­ton­o­mous Pre­fec­ture.

After a half-year sur­vey, Li led his team to He­bian, and of­fi­cially started the process to re­lieve the vil­lage from ex­treme poverty by turn­ing it into a for­est hol­i­day re­sort.

“We were quite skep­ti­cal at the be­gin­ning. We thought that there wouldn’t be such a good thing, and even sus­pected them of be­ing frauds pre­tend­ing that they wanted to help us get rich,” Deng Lin­guo, an ac­coun­tant from the vil­lage com­mit­tee, told the Global Times on Tues­day.

After ce­ment roads, san­i­ta­tion fa­cil­i­ties and new houses were built, these doubts dis­ap­peared com­pletely.

“We have never been so en­thu­si­as­tic about get­ting rid of the poverty that has been passed down through sev­eral gen­er­a­tions,” Deng noted.

In fact, the vil­lagers have al­ready tasted the ben­e­fits of the change that Li has brought to them. Last year, through his on­line shop, Li sold thou­sands of eggs at a price of 10 yuan each. Eggs laid by free range chick­ens in rain­forests have proven pop­u­lar among ur­ban con­sumers.

Since the re­form and open­ing-up drive, China has lifted more than 700 mil­lion of its cit­i­zens out of poverty. But there are still tens of mil­lions of peo­ple living be­low the poverty line.

He be­lieves this task will be an up­hill strug­gle. But he is con­vinced that the ex­per­i­ment in He­bian will suc­ceed and can be fol­lowed or copied.

Pho­tos: Mengla Xiaoyun Poverty Al­le­vi­a­tion Cen­ter, Kong Deji

New houses are built in He­bian vil­lage in Yun­nan with the help of Li Xiaoyun’s poverty al­le­vi­a­tion cen­ter. Top: Li Xiaoyun im­parts plant­ing tech­niques in Tan­za­nia in July 2015.

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