Battling poverty at the grassroots

Outside a giant exhibition hall near Dai village, in Shandong province, where local agri-produce — ginger, capsicum and much more — are displayed, Wang Chuanxi is a much sought after man. In the soft light of an early September morning, he was mobbed by visiting local and international media, keen to understand how China has fought ingrained poverty at the grassroots.

Mr. Wang — a local hero and a member of the Communist Party of China (CPC) since 1997 — had for years served as the party’s secretary in the village. Under the local leadership, Dai village, once a remote and poor outpost of the eastern province of Shandong, has morphed itself into prosperity. So how did this humble hamlet’s rags-to-riches story begin? The answer may lie in a combination of a dedicated local leadership, backed by a strong Central government, well- known for thinking big.

Instead of seeking village development in isolation, a bolder plan was drawn to transform the area, which would integrate the village into a much larger Lanjing National Agriculture Park (LNAP).

Drawing on experiences

“We had to draw from national and international experience to finalise our plans. Since we were already in an era of reforms and opening up, our teams visited several advanced countries, including Israel, Germany, France and Japan. We also learnt from India’s experience in agriculture,” says Mr. Wang.

The second strategic decision was to lower the village’s reliance on agriculture.

Farming had to be complemented with agro-tourism and green development, in tune with China’s new obsession with green mountains, clean air and water, as well as a massive reduction of the carbon footprint to meet the country’s climate change goals.

Generous financial support, arrival of broadband Internet and the growing profile of e-commerce have also contributed to the transformation of this backwater of eastern China. “We got financial support from China Agriculture Bank, but there have also been local agriculture banks that have given us financing,” says Mr. Wang. That includes the local Linyi agriculture bank, which has parcelled a three-year loan of around $140 million.

Farmers will use the cash for startups, food processing and logistics, including setting up cold chains for perishable products. “We already have 50,000 trucks, including refrigerated vehicles, to transport the agricultural products,” Mr. Wang said.

The local official, designated by the government as a “model worker,” points out that 20-30% of products of the agricultural park are now sold online through the e-commerce channel.

The dramatic transformation of LNAP can now be measured in numbers. The average per capita income, from a very low base, has now surged to nearly $9,500, while the annual revenue shot up to $393 million.

The increasing reliance on online sale mirrors the growing presence of China’s e-commerce giants in the countryside. Of the 20 million new users Alibaba gained in the April-June quarter this year, China’s smaller cities and rural areas contributed more than 70%.

In the nearby town of Longquan, the Shandong Donghua Cement Company has signed up with Alibaba Cloud Computing to promote an entire building materials industry chain under a smart cement project.

The local initiatives in Shandong are part of a much larger national plan to eliminate poverty in China by 2020. In Beijing, Professor Zhang Qi, president of the China Poverty Relief Institute of Beijing Normal University, told the media during a recent event organised by the All China Journalists Association that there has been a dramatic reduction in poverty — from 98 million in 2012 to 16 million currently.

“This is a very remarkable achievement. By the end of 2019, it is estimated that 300 poor counties will get rid of poverty. By 2020, all the remaining poor counties will get rid of poverty so as to achieve our goal to walk out of poverty. This is dream long cherished by the Chinese people. It is also the sacred commitment made by the Communist Party to the Chinese people,” he said.

Mr. Zhang pointed out that China was dovetailing its anti-poverty programme with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) of the UN. “In the international community we have SDGs, which have five or six items related to poverty reduction. So our initiative is also in line with the UN sustainable development agenda.”

Atul Aneja is The Hindu’s Beijing correspondent


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