Ningxia residents begin the long climb out of poverty

Updated: 2012-12-19 08:37

By Peng Yining (China Daily)

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Waiting, depending, demanding

At 6 am, just as dawn was breaking, Zhang Yanqin cocooned herself in a baggy yellow sweater and walked in the icy morning wind. Her face glowed red from the cold. Every day she rises early to mow the field near her cave and provide fodder for the sheep.

She said the lambing season will start in a few months and each lamb could fetch as much as 400 yuan.

"Life is not easy. But relying on my own efforts is more practical and makes me feel better than accepting charity," said Zhang. "I want my children to learn that."

Ningxia residents begin the long climb out of poverty

Local people haggling over the price of falcons at a market in Guyuan county.

Zhang Xinqi, the village head, said 12 of the 42 households in Xiagaoyao village have found a way to make a living and alleviate their dependence on donations.

The village administration is trying to help farmers start businesses by providing training and a small subsidy, according to the village head. Some of the farmers tried breeding pigs three years ago, but failed through lack of experience.

However, when some families made a profit by breeding sheep, it quickly became a trend in the village.

"Donations can make people lazy," Zhang Xinqi said. "We called it deng kao yao, or 'waiting, depending, demanding'. You can't live on waiting, depending and demanding."

Ningxia residents begin the long climb out of poverty

In 2011, 6.95 billion yuan in poverty-relief funding was spent in Ningxia, according to a report from the Ningxia Poverty Alleviation and Development Office. Meanwhile, the Ningxia Charity Federation received more than 35 million yuan in charitable donations from home and abroad.

Despite the help, the average income of the farmers in the mountainous area is 3,415 yuan, 57.7 percent of the national average, according to the poverty alleviation office.

"Instead of having a blood transfusion, helping the body to make blood is the fundamental solution," according to a report released by the Ningxia government.

In addition to direct donations, the government launched a poverty-relief project earlier this year, helping the poor by providing job opportunities and vocational training.

The project, Huang He Shan Gu, or Yellow River Valley Charity, involves six industrial parks and has attracted 18.2 billion yuan in investment.

Yang Yanping, a 33-year-old farmer, said he benefited from the vocational training and became a veterinarian in 2010.

"My father passed away in 2009 and a drought destroyed all my crops," he said. "I was desperate."

Although charity was an option, it would take a long time for donations to ease the family's suffering and so Yang bought three sheep with borrowed funds. His family now owns more than 60 sheep and five cows. The animals bring in 30,000 yuan every year for the family of five.

"There are risks in starting a business on your own, compared with waiting for someone else to feed you," said Yang. "But I have to take that risk to live a better life, a decent life."

Zou Xiaomei, his sister-in-law, said that since she joined the sheep-breeding business she has felt increasingly confident about the future. Zou said she loves grazing her sheep across the vast expanse of open country. The local mountains may not be high, but they are extremely rugged.

"I have never before found my home so beautiful," she said. "Sometimes I just can't help singing when I stand on top of the hill, surrounded by my sheep."

"In the mountains" she sang in the Ningxia dialect, elongating the end of each sentence, "... the red flowers bloom." Her voice trailed off.