Yu Youde from Xieli Village in southwest China's Yunnan Province plays a musical instrument on June 5 (WEI YAO)
It was not until Yu Youde was 12 years old that he and his family lived in a house made of bricks and concrete. Before that, they lived in a forest with a primitive life of hunting, picking edible plants, farming and bartering at an altitude of over 2,000 meters, along with seven other households from the Lisu ethnic group.
In 2002, with the help of the local government, they resettled in Xieli, Zhefang, a China-Myanmar border town in southwest China's Yunnan Province.
To get their life rolling, the local government provided various supports such as helping with household registration and social security. These households started breeding domestic animals and growing organic vegetables, which brought them a rising income.
"I witnessed so many changes," 47-year-old Yu said. In 2016, his house was renovated and equipped with a brand new washing machine, refrigerator, large-screen TV, as well as a solar energy system.
Villagers walk in a street in Xieli Village on June 5 (WEI YAO)
Xieli is less than 1 km from Myanmar, with 18 households from the Jingpo ethnic group and 14 from the Lisu group. Partly due to its remoteness, the village was very poor in the past. The poverty incidence was 100 percent in 2014, covering all 32 households and 117 people.
According to Yin Xingpeng, Secretary of the village Communist Party of China branch, villagers' lack of education, ossified thinking and conservative actions also stalled Xieli's development.
After graduating from college in 2016, Yin came to Xieli and became secretary of the village Party branch, which currently has six members. "Our job is to provide services for villagers and help them get rid of poverty," the 26-year-old said. After studying the reasons for the poverty, the local Party branch and the government implemented a series of measures.
They provided funds to each family to renovate their house, in coordination with companies such as China Three Gorges Corp., a state-owned enterprise, which cooperates with the Yunnan Provincial Government in poverty alleviation. In 2016, the renovation of the houses of all 32 families was completed, preserving the colorful traditional designs, unique to the Jingpo and Lisu.
For a better living environment, the village Party branch motivated villagers to participate in village management and landscaping, such as painting walls with ethnic patterns. Moreover, the village built a square for people to practice musical instruments and organize performances.
Yunnan is a major front in China's battle against drug smuggling, as it borders the Golden Triangle, northern Thailand, Laos and Myanmar, infamous for its rampant drug production and trafficking. Xieli used to be affected by drugs, too. According to Yin, many villagers became addicts. In response to this situation, the village Party branch implemented village regulations to eradicate drug use.
In the past, farmers in Xieli mainly grew maize, which was a lot of work but yielded a low return. After conducting field surveys, the villagers found that the soil is better suited for growing cherry trees. Following discussions, they decided to pool the land and started growing cherry trees on a large scale.
To ensure the growth of the trees, the village raised 70,000 yuan ($10,200) to build two reservoirs and a drip irrigation system, which not only solved the plant watering issue but also ensured water supply for the people. Currently, most of the trees are bearing fruit and mass production is expected in two years.
To further increase villagers' income, green breeding industries are being developed. Making full use of the area's high mountains and dense forests, farmers are breeding native free-range chickens. Each household raises more than 30 chickens and sells them under a village brand to nearby restaurants and markets. Because of their high quality, these chickens are more expensive than regular ones, but even so, they sell out easily and quickly. A similar pattern has been adopted for goat and other livestock breeding.
At first, however, the villagers had doubts about these methods. "They were afraid of losing money and needed time to embrace these new things. This is where Party members stepped up as motivators," Yin said.
Liao Wenjuan and her husband Yue Mazhan used to work in big cities for a living. Liao is one of the pioneers who started organic breeding and vegetable growing, and now her family is the beneficiary of the village's development.
"In the past, we could barely make ends meet as migrant workers, but now we can stay in our hometown and earn more money," 40-year-old Liao said. Last year, their pigs and the cherries all sold out, ensuring the next round of investment and also a stable income.
Seeing the tangible benefits garnered by pioneers like Liao, an increasing number of villagers were motivated and joined in. "Now whenever the Party branch proposes an idea to develop an industry, villagers response actively," Yin said.
By the end of 2018, the number of registered poor households had dropped to only three, covering 11 people, and it is estimated that they will shake off poverty by the end of the year.
According to Yin, when the breeding and vegetable growing industries mature, the village will tap the potential of its local natural scenery, like forests and waterfalls, and begin developing border village tourism while preserving the ecological environment. "By doing so, we hope to let more people get to know Xieli," Yin said.
Copyedited by Rebeca Toledo
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