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Post-Poverty in Rural Hebei
Text and photographs by Cecile Zehnacker

 

Geese are left strolling around the walnut trees with a mission of cleaning the soil during summertime. Cutting-edge soil-less agricultural technologies on display at Nanhe Agricultural Carnival. Sheep breeding at Hebei Runtao Husbandry.

Poverty alleviation has always been one of the paramount goals of the Chinese government, and poverty inevitably plagues rural areas the most. In China, as in many other developing countries, growth across various regions of the country has been unbalanced and income gaps have expanded. The massive jump in urbanization and accelerated development in recent years have only made it more difficult for the millions engaged in agriculture and animal husbandry to make a living. Although more and more farmers are moving to cities in the hope of improving their living conditions, they often still don’t earn enough money to provide a comfortable life for their families. The left-behind members of these families, mostly seniors and children, suffer the most. Rural areas are unable to provide adequate education and nutrition for growing children. It’s no mystery why poverty alleviation has become a monumental challenge for China.

However, since 2001, many dramatic improvements in key rural areas have been credited to the unremitting efforts of the Chinese government. People in a wide range of regions are seeing increased earnings, enjoying better-developed infrastructure and witnessing a significant drop in illiteracy and a rise in school attendance. The emergence of clinics in most villages has afforded wider access to healthcare. As a result of the combined efforts of many agencies, China managed to become the first country to achieve the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals target of reducing the country’s poor population by half. The impressive numbers were achieved through the implementation of many different types of initiatives including economic reform, infrastructure building and specifically-targeted policies.

The most specific policies are perhaps the most challenging for local authorities, but they can also be the most empowering. Most governmental projects in rural areas require social participation and aim to make villagers self-reliant. In its 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020), the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) preserved targeted poverty alleviation as a central goal, and looked to empower people through 12 key targeted poverty alleviation programs based on local characteristics including tourism poverty-reduction, photovoltaic poverty-reduction and special agriculture poverty reduction. In recent years, projects following these key programs have been implemented in Hebei, a province that neighbors Beijing and Tianjin, yet remains one of the poorest in China. A total of 74 million people inhabit Hebei’s 170 counties, of which 62 have acknowledged poor conditions. To get a better idea about how such measures work, we took a closer look at five participating counties in the prefecture-level city of Xingtai in this northern Chinese province. 

Innovative Nanhe Agricultural Carnival

Nanhe County is located in the heart of the North China Plain and is a traditional agricultural county that is home to 44 poverty-stricken villages. Nanhe County Agricultural Carnival Project, based in the administrative area of Jiasong Town of Nanhe County in Xingtai, has already helped 8,525 people from 31 of these villages escape poverty. The project was designed by China Agricultural University and features a 27,000-square-meter ensemble of greenhouses in which vegetables, edible fungi, herbs for Chinese medicine and crops for livestock are grown. The structures also serve as a laboratory in which cutting-edge agricultural technologies such as soil-less culture and 3D planting can be honed, and has become the most popular agricultural tourism destination in Hebei Province. At its launch in July 2016, an agreement with local residents was signed that allocated each of them a share of 4,000 yuan in a trust meant to encourage locals to invest in local companies and create stable incomes. The project quickly became profitable, and villagers began receiving an annual 10 percent dividend. The Agricultural Carnival also created 100 permanent jobs for local villagers such as gardeners, food preparers, janitors and tour guides.

 

 

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