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The finances of China's poverty-stricken farmers

09-28-2011 09:36 BJT

by Xinhua writer Zhu Shaobin

CHICHENG, HEBEI PROVINCE, Sept. 27 (Xinhua) -- Just 180 kilometers north of the hustle and bustle of the Chinese capital Beijing lies the tranquility of Chicheng County, a landscape dominated by greenish hills and somewhat primitive lifestyles.

For farmers at Zhujiamiao Village, donkey-pulled wooden carts remain the major transportation mode for carrying home bags of rice on narrow countryside roads from towns.

Ni Wenquan, head of the village, said that farmers in the village mostly depend on their farmlands to make a living. They now grow corn and potatoes instead of rice so that more water can be saved and provided to nearby Beijing in compliance with a water-supply policy launched in 2006.

For farmers, disease and sons' marriages are the two biggest financial burdens, said Ni, a 59-year-old man who had raised two daughters and one son, all of whom were finding work in cities, like many others in the villages' young generations.

Although the farmers can get some subsidies for medical treatment, Ni said that going to a hospital remains costly and, when it comes to marriage, girls nowadays prefer to marry those who can buy new homes in towns.

However, property prices are soaring. Housing prices in the county seat have reached nearly 4,000 yuan (625 U.S. dollars) per square meter, almost double the prices of one year ago.

According to the county government, around 85,000 farmers, or almost 30 percent of the population of Chicheng County, are affected by poverty as their annual per capita income reaches no more than 1,500 yuan.

To give comparable figures, rural residents in Beijing reported 13,262 yuan in annual income last year, while residents in urban districts raked in nearly 30,000 yuan in annual disposable income.

The sharply contrasting figures show the unbalanced wealth and economic development facing China even though it now ranks second in economic output around the world.

This imbalance is also reflected by inadequate financial services in rural regions where farmers face great difficulties in borrowing from banks or rural credit cooperatives.

"Actually, there are no banks at all in the townships in Chicheng. Bank branches can only be found in the county seat," said Han Zhisheng, deputy chief of the county's Poverty-Relief Office. Han said it was also difficult for farmers to get loans from rural credit cooperatives.

However, a new type of village-level cooperative fund has been established in many Chinese provinces in recent years to address the financing needs of farmers.

In Chicheng, for instance, this kind of village-level fund is usually valued at 300,000 yuan. The government provides a starting fund ranging from 150,000 yuan to 200,000 yuan, and farmers voluntarily join in and expand the fund with cash input. 

The members of the fund can take out loans of no more than 4,000 yuan during a maximum one-year period, with a monthly lending rate of only 0.4 percent -- much lower than banks. At present, more than 20 villages have established similar funds in the county.

In order to improve the ecology and environment surrounding the Chinese capital and the city of Tianjin, China started a 10-year program in 2000 for sandstorm prevention and water and soil loss prevention in Hebei's Chengde and Zhangjiakou, where Chicheng is located. The Hebei provincial government also banned grazing in 2002.

While these policies have cut income-making channels for the farmers in the county, some villagers say they feel things are getting better in other aspects, including improved environment and the rise of a local tourism industry.

Zhang Guangliang, a villager in Longmensuo Township, said the environment in Chicheng has greatly improved in recent years.

"In the past, there used to be goat dung everywhere. When the goats climbed down the hills, they would cause a lot of dust, which seriously polluted the air," Zhang said.

He said the air is much cleaner now and he feels more comfortable living in the county where green pine trees now cover the hills and marigold flowers rise in full blossom along the roadsides in autumn.

At Laozhazi Village near the Heilongshan Forest Park in the northeastern part of the county, villager Qiao Hui is decorating five new guest rooms in his own farmyard.

"With the grazing ban and the policy to return grain plots to forestry, we now have cleaner water and more beautiful hills to attract tourists," Qiao said.

He said a total of seven households in the village have opened dining and lodging services for travelers looking for a getaway from their urban routines. A drive from downtown Beijing to the county takes only three hours.

Qiao Hui said even though the village has not seen a large influx of visitors yet, the villagers are quite confident that tourism will become an important source of revenue.

Li Min, the newly-appointed party chief of Chicheng County, said that the county will greatly boost the development of its tourism industry by advertising its pristine natural landscapes.

"We are confident that our county will attract more visitors from Beijing for the multiple experiences we can offer, such as hot spring baths, hiking, and summer resort vacations," Li said.

Besides the promising tourism industry, the local county government has stepped up efforts for alleviating poverty in recent years. Having worked in poverty relief since 1987, Han Zhisheng is now leading a 20-member team to carry out assistance village by village in what they call a more precise and detailed poverty relief program: a cell project.

His team plans to help 35 poverty-stricken villages boost infrastructure construction and subsidize cattle raising or seed purchasing for farmers during the next five years. According to Han, the project has benefited more than 130 poverty-stricken villages over the past ten years.

Since 2002, poverty relief funds in the county have amounted to 65.5 million yuan, according to statistics provided by Han.

With the funding and the implementation of the "cell project," the county has also cultivated multiple bases in different townships for the production of the Chinese medicinal herb grifola umbelleta and marigold as well as of swine, beef, chicken, vegetables, and edible mushrooms --industries that will help increase income for the farmers in the long run. (Cao Guochang and Li Huizi contributed to this story)



Editor:Zhang Rui |Source: Xinhua

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