Wen Huixian, Deputy Mayor of Zuoquan County in Shanxi Province, north China, has been a busy man. He has not only visited poor villages in the county, coordinating poverty alleviation projects, but also traveled to trade fairs to market local specialty products.
Over the past two years, the three animal breeding projects and four planting projects he led have brought a stable income to more than 1,200 poor households in the county.
Wen was sent to Zuoquan to work temporarily as a deputy county mayor by China Pictorial, a monthly magazine of the Beijing-based China International Publishing Group (CIPG). Since 2002, the publishing group has been sending its employees to the impoverished county for hands-on participation in the poverty alleviation drive.
The drive to end poverty across the country by 2020 has seen a wide spectrum of participants, including staff members sent by government departments, state-owned enterprises and social organizations.
The CIPG has been one of the supporters of the campaign. It has assisted in education for children and training for county officials, promoted local industries and funded solar panels for clean energy. A special CIPG fund has been established for projects.
Li Jin (left) visits a rural family in Zuoquan. The family relocated to a new home subsidized by the government (COURTESY PHOTO)
For Wen, going to work in Shanxi was a homecoming since he was born there. Zuoquan, an old revolutionary base, had a population of over 49,000 poor people. One of Wen’s tasks was to develop local industries and promote their products outside.
The county had the potential to develop fruit orchards, especially apple orchards. However, the farmers lacked money to buy fertilizers and improve irrigation. In December 2019, a farmers’ cooperative from the village of Shangwu asked Wen for help.
After an on-site investigation, Wen ascertained that fertilizers and drip irrigation could improve farmers’ earnings by 30 percent. He obtained funds from the CIPG for the cooperative in under six months and the result proved his judgment correct. By October, the cooperative’s apple orchards had produced nearly 40 percent more compared with the previous year.
Another village, Tianmen, had abundant forests, perfect for raising chickens. However, the farmers lacked funds to improve and expand poultry farming. With Wen’s help, they received funding from the county government as well as a matching contribution from CIPG’s special fund for poverty alleviation, with the pooled sum amounting to 600,000 yuan ($89,702).
In two years, Wen had visited almost all the 129 impoverished villages in the county, helping to develop traditional agricultural and animal husbandry industries based on local conditions. Seven projects were started under his watch, funded by over 1.7 million yuan ($254,000) from the CIPG poverty alleviation fund.
Two of the projects, raising ducks in Lichang Village and planting cherry in Shangkou Village, have become signature ones for poverty alleviation in Zuoquan, Wen said.
In April 2019, Zuoquan was officially declared to have shaken off poverty. However, though Wen’s two-year tenure ended this year, instead of returning to Beijing, he has chosen to stay on till the end of the year, the deadline for the elimination of poverty, to help strengthen the results.
Wang Peng (left) with an elderly villager in Zuoquan on October 22 (MA LI)
In May 2018, Wang Peng from CIPG’s general editorial office was assigned to support poverty alleviation work in Lichang, a village in the same county with fewer than 400 people. Many young people had left the village to look for greener pastures elsewhere.
Wang’s work in the village includes improving the life of village elders, especially those left behind by their younger family members who work in cities. A daytime care center was established in 2014 to provide three free daily meals to people over 65. Almost 45 elderly villagers dine in the center regularly. Also, every year, the elderly are given free clothing and entertainment activities are organized for them.
The village provides 160,000 yuan ($23,922) annually to cover the center’s expenses.
For many villagers, raising ducks is a major means of livelihood but initially, many ducklings died in winter as the duck sheds had no heating. Today, three modern and automated duck sheds with heating have been built. Machines do most of the work there, including feeding the birds and cleaning the sheds. A duck breeder can earn around 7,000 yuan ($1,046) a month, which is more than what many villagers working outside as migrant labor make.
Nearly 2.08 million yuan ($310,995) has been invested in building the duck sheds, including 730,000 yuan ($109,147) from the CIPG and 840,000 yuan ($12,538) raised through micro bank loans. The local government paid the rest.
Wang said this year the villagers also planted 2 hectares of apricots, which will benefit 30 poor households.
When Wang’s tenure in the village ends in December, another CIPG staff will take his place. “This will be continued to ensure long-term effects of the poverty alleviation work and further improve villagers’ conditions even after absolute poverty is eliminated,” Wang said.
Many more CIPG employees like Wang and Wen have taken part, first-hand, in the national initiative. Li Jin from China.org.cn, an online media outlet under CIPG, went to work in Liaoyang Town in the county a few months before her wedding after persuading both her and her husband’s families.
A city girl, Li found it challenging at first due to her unfamiliarity with the rural environment and the poverty alleviation work, which for her includes explaining to the impoverished villagers the preferential policies available to provide them with benefits and how to access them.
Gradually, she has adapted to the new environment. “The work has enriched my life and experience,” she said.