A beaming Bai Yanfang with her granddaughter at her new house in Donggou Village in Zuoquan County, Shanxi Province in north China, on October 20 (CHEN JIAN)
Zhou Xinfang considers 2017 to be a year of "earth-shaking change" for her family. It was the year the family moved from their remote village in Zuoquan County, Shanxi Province in north China, to a more hospitable area. From a draughty, adobe house they relocated to a modern apartment with all the amenities they had lacked before.
The old village, hidden in the mountains, lacked running water, transport, schools and hospitals. But the new resettlement site, built in 2003, is more centrally situated.
"In the past, we had to get water from faraway places, but now we get water by turning on the tap," Zhou said. "My grandson had to walk an hour to school, but now we have a kindergarten and primary school nearby; and it takes 10 minutes to go to the hospital."
The icing on the cake is the extra stable income. With her husband, son and daughter-in-law working in the city, she had to struggle with the cattle. But now the animals have been handed over to a farmers' cooperative and fetch a handsome extra income.
As the poverty alleviation campaign in the county accelerated, over 4,500 impoverished people from 32 villages had been relocated by the end of 2018, according to Ju Weirong, Director of the Poverty Alleviation Office of Zuoquan.
Bai Yanfang lives next door to Zhou. In the past, her four-member family struggled to live on the sparse income from her husband's salary as a government employee and the little plot of land they had in the mountains, where they grew corn and potato.
Bai said they worried what would happen if someone fell ill as they had no savings to pay for medical expenses. "We would hope that one day we too could live like people in cities do. That in winter the children would have warm classrooms without freezing."
The relocation in 2007 brought good luck for Bai's family. Her son got a good job in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in north China, married and is now a proud father with two children. Her daughter got married from the new house in October and to top it all, Bai's husband's salary has been raised. Also, they have medical insurance.
Last year, the per-capita income of Donggou, the village where they have relocated, was 8,600 yuan ($1,287). This year, despite the novel coronavirus epidemic, it has crossed 10,000 yuan ($1,497), Wang Zhiming, Secretary of the Communist Party of China Donggou Village Branch, said.
To ensure the villagers' livelihood after relocation, various programs have been started. The villagers grow walnuts, a specialty of the county, and multiple crops. Cattle raising is also a major household business. A waxberry industry is being developed with an investment of 2 million yuan ($299,585).
Farmers are organized into cooperatives, which have greater investment capacity and find it easier to get bank loans. According to a Xinhua News Agency report in July, more than 90 percent of poor villages in China have set up farmers' cooperatives, which play an important role in the poverty alleviation efforts. Over 682,000 such cooperatives have helped nearly 22 million people shake off poverty.
The Donggou cooperative has raised funds from its members for the waxberry-growing project and undertaken to distribute its profit among them in proportion to their contributions. In 2019 and 2020, the cooperative distributed 36,000 yuan ($5,393) each year among its members, Wang said.
The county government allocated 17.7 million yuan ($2.7 million) in 2018-19 to establish solar power industries in 32 villages. This year, the county has invested 8.6 million yuan ($1.3 million) to develop an animal husbandry industry that uses organic feed for the animals.
"In order to ensure people have an adequate income after their relocation, we have also created some public service jobs," Ju said. They include working as cleaners, security guards and landscapers.
With the help of these industries, Donggou became poverty-free in 2017. The entire county was officially declared out of poverty last year. However, that doesn't mean the end of the mission. "We have to innovate continuously to consolidate the hard-won results," Ju said.
The next step, according to Wang, is to develop agritourism in the village with homestays and developing more industries with special characteristics.
(Print Edition Title: Moving for Improving)
Copyedited by Sudeshna Sarkar
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