Civil servants to the rescue

Updated: 2012-04-19 08:05

By Su Jiangyuan (China Daily)

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Civil servants to the rescue

A group of civil servants from Duncao township, Guizhou province, treks to a mountainous village, carrying backpacks with daily necessities for poverty-stricken villagers. Photos by Su Jiangyuan / China Daily

Civil servants to the rescue

Wei Xiaogui, 59, stands in front of his house, which was ruined by hail.

Civil servants to the rescue

"Backpacker Cadres" give quilts to Douma villagers.

Poor villagers in a remote and mountainous part of Guizhou are receiving assistance through the sterling efforts of a local Communist Party chief. Su Jiangyuan reports in Guizhou.

Morning had broken in Duncao, Changshun county, Guizhou province, when Wang Chaoliang assembled a 12-person squad for the journey ahead.

It was early March and the 43-year-old Communist Party chief of the township's commission of discipline inspection was leading his team to Douma village, which had been hit by the heaviest hail in 50 years.

After a 3 km drive, the road to the village ended and the team had to walk for four hours and 7 km across the rugged mountain, with baskets on their backs.

They were carrying waterproof cloths, quilts and food for the villagers.

"We bring goods for the villagers every time we go there," Wang says. "Many of the youngsters have left for jobs elsewhere so those left behind are just old people and children. It's hard for them to travel to town."

Douma is one of three villages in Duncao township, surrounded by karst mountain terrain.

"We visit the villages regularly to seek solutions to alleviate the villagers' poverty," Wang says.

Since November 2011, the 34 civil servants in Duncao have been taking packed baskets of goods for the villagers, which is how they got their nickname the "Backpacker Cadres".

Wang says the average annual income of a villager in Douma is 2,700 yuan ($429), compared with the country's average of 6,977 yuan, in 2011.

More than half of the approximately 1,200 villagers, about 90 percent of whom are from the Miao ethnic group, work elsewhere or rely on government subsidies.

Those staying in the village rely on basic agriculture to survive.

"Except for noodles and salt, we grow almost everything we eat," says 63-year-old Wei Xiaolu.

With his two sons, he tends half a hectare of corn and raises pigs. The hail has ruined his roof and repairs will cost 25,000 yuan, which Wei says he can't afford.

Wang says they will make temporary repairs for Wei and his neighbors, and seek further help from his bosses. But in the long run, they hope to find ways to develop the local economy so that the villagers are self-sustaining.

They encourage the villagers to grow economically viable crops and tend to livestock such as chickens and bees. A pharmaceutical factory from Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region may also locate here and produce traditional Chinese medicines derived from local produce.

"We want more organized industry, rather than just production on a small scale," Wang comments.

In 2010, Wang and his squad conducted experiments on a 1.3-hectare field and found 1 hectare could produce 1,500 kg of corn, selling for 3,300 yuan. The same area can produce about 4,000 kg of sorghum, and it can be sold for twice the price of corn.

"So, we suggested the villagers grew sorghum, the major ingredient of Moutai white liquor, and one third of them are now doing so," Wang says.

Sorghum straw also has a market, Wang adds, noting that a businessman in Jiangsu province wants to buy 100,000 kg of sorghum straw to make brooms.

Even so, Wang admits most villagers don't want to switch to sorghum production, as they can eat corn but selling sorghum is difficult because of transportation problems.

The planned new roads to the villages should solve this problem, though another option is ecological migration.

The Guizhou provincial government intends to move out 1.5 million people living in the mountains over the next decade, in a plan estimated to cost 18 billion yuan ($2.86 billion). It has not been decided yet whether Duncao will be part of this plan.

Shi Bang, 31, believes the villagers should move out. The volunteer on Wang's squad, from Sandu county in Guizhou, graduated from Guiyang University in 2010.

"Construction costs are higher here than elsewhere and it is not economically viable for the villagers or government to stay," Shi says.

"Ecological migration is the best way to solve the problem. The villagers can find jobs in towns and leave this area to agriculture."

At 4 pm, Wang and his team head home and as usual he makes a record in his notebook: "Twelve Backpacker Cadres walked for four hours to the disaster area of Douma village "

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Wang Kaihao in Beijing contributed to this story.