Research Notes on Targeted Poverty Alleviation

By: Lu XinsheFrom:English Edition of Qiushi Journal July-September 2019|Vol.11,No.3,Issue No.40 | Updated: 2019-Nov-14 14:15
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Guangxi in southern China is home to a deeply impoverished population spread over a vast geographical space, and is thus one of the main battlegrounds in China’s fight against poverty. To better understand the progress of poverty alleviation and the living conditions of poor households after arriving in Guangxi to take up office, I asked the Guangxi Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development to compile a booklet that I could carry around with me, which was titled A Current Record of Extremely Impoverished Areas in Guangxi. Every time I took an investigative trip to rural areas, I would study the conditions there carefully according to information in the booklet, randomly selecting a few poor towns, villages, and families to see how things were firsthand. My goal was to truly understand that key concept, “targeted.” After a little over a year, I had successively visited 14 cities with municipal districts, 38 poor counties, 56 poor towns, 83 poor villages, and more than 100 poor households, gaining a deep understanding of targetedpoverty alleviation in Guangxi.

Tourists take in the beautiful autumn scenery at Longji Rice Terraces during the Golden Week holiday celebrating the National Day from October 1 to 7. Longsheng Ethnic Minority Autonomous County in Guilin has gradually built a poverty alleviation setup that incorporates environmental protection and tourism with the goal of becoming a national model for ecotourism. PHOTO PROVIDED BY PEOPLE’S DAILY ONLINE

An aerial view of Siding Town, Rong’an County in Liuzhou. Due to its location deep within the mountains of northern Guangxi, the county once had very inconvenient transportation and underdeveloped infrastructure. However, with great progress in fighting poverty, local villages are now linked together by paved roads, and all residents have access to safe drinking water and improved infrastructure. With the support of poverty alleviation policies, the local people are moving toward moderate prosperity with great momentum. PEOPLE’S DAILY / PHOTO BY WEI RONGJUN

I. Success or failure depends on self-growth through industrial development.

Escaping from poverty not only requires help from the outside, but even more importantly requires self-assistance.

On June 12, 2018, I visited Dahua Yao Autonomous County. After switching to an off-road vehicle in the county seat, we traveled along rugged mountain roads for two and a half hours to reach Nongping Village in Qibainong Township. In the afternoon, we walked along a stone and dirt track for half an hour, and then climbed a steep and slippery, narrow and winding trail for more than 20 minutes, finally entering the extremely poverty-stricken Nongxiong Village. I had already mentally prepared myself to see this place, once described by United Nations officials as “unfit for human settlement,” but still I was profoundly shaken by what lay before me.

I saw a vast mountain as far as the eye could see, with people’s homes scattered across the low ridgelines, either semi-stilted or non-stilted houses. The ground section of each house was for livestock while the people lived above, and the upper and lower sections were separated only by wooden boards, so that the stench of animal manure rose up through the cracks. The villagers survived on the small amount of corn that could be planted on the rocky terrain. But this was eaten by people and pigs alike. Life in such a sparse and barren environment is not easy, and there was almost no industrialized production to speak of. Such poverty is passed on from generation to generation.

Later, I visited similarly impoverished counties such as Du’an and Donglan, and came to realize that the shared reasons behind the poverty in all these places were the harsh natural environments and lack of industry. The inability to find appropriate industry to develop often means that people in poverty-stricken communities have nowhere to direct their energy, which gradually causes them to lose hope and motivation. When I talked with people in the villages, the thing they spoke about most often and hoped for mostly ardently was rapid industrialized development, to increase their incomes and generate profits.

In order to better resolve the lack of industrialized production, we formulated “Standards for Cataloguing and Identifying Competitive Industries to Support Poverty Alleviation Efforts for Counties and County-level Cities and Districts in Guangxi.” We selected 78 competitive industries, and encouraged all local governments to develop these industries in line with their own realities and with due consideration to local conditions and policies, and to provide support in areas such as policy, funding, and technology. Officials and members of the public working at the primary level have been extremely pleased with this policy. All areas are placing more and more importance on the development of industry, and many poor regions are embracing their regional characteristics and natural resource endowments, engaging in agriculture, forestry, commerce, and tourism wherever conditions are suitable, and gradually exploring uniquely representational paths of industrial development.

Specialized agriculture has become a top choice.

Chinese farmers have been in the business of crop planting and animal breeding for thousands of years, and they are also the most foundational industries and the easiest in which to achieve breakthroughs. Specialized and ecological planting and breeding has helped a large number of people lift the “hat of poverty” off their heads. Starting out from their reality of stone-covered mountains, the people of Dahua Yao Autonomous County have worked hard to develop regionally unique animal breeding. Taking a local chicken breed, they created the “Qibainong Chicken” brand, obtaining a nationally recognized geographical logo and reaching a scale of 1.7 million chickens bred across the county. In this way, one poverty-stricken community has, through relying on chickens, escaped poverty.

Ecotourism has become a new type of industry.

Guangxi may be poor, but its mountains are lush and its waters clear, its environment beautiful, and its ethnic cultures vibrant and diverse, offering naturally advantageous conditions for developing industries related to tourism and health and leisure activities. While doing research in Longsheng, Sanjiang, Bama, and other impoverished counties, I saw that those places were full of rich touristic resources that have been tapped into. For instance, village homestays, relaxing rural inns, farmhouse holiday resorts, and other such touristic products have been developed to help alleviate poverty and attract people from all corners of the world. This is, in fact, turning the lush mountains and clear waters into valuable assets. Colleagues from within the Department of Culture and Tourism tell me that rural tourism across the region has shown a trend of explosive growth in recent years, driving more than 300 poverty-stricken villages onto a path of prosperity.

Border trade has boosted industrial development.

Among Guangxi’s eight counties (including county-level cities and districts) located along the border, five are priority counties in the state’s poverty alleviation and development campaign, with the other three also heavily targeted. At present, these areas are leveraging their “one step to Vietnam, two steps to ASEAN” regional advantage and state preferential policies for cross-border trade. What were previously borders of poverty are gradually becoming “borders of gold,” as exemplified by people living in border regions who can earn 100-200 yuan a day offering transport services, border trade factory workers who can earn 3,000-4,000 yuan per month, and frail and elderly border residents who can also earn a few thousand yuan a year by joining border resident mutual aid groups.

The Dashi mountainous area is the most difficult area to lift from poverty through industrial development, and as such it must be the focus of the next stage of our effort. We consulted with leading industry experts and systematically combed through success stories both inside and outside Guangxi, in order to specially compile the Cases of Poverty Alleviation Through Industrial Development in the Dashi Mountainous Area for people from all areas in Guangxi to refer to, with the aim of helping people living in poverty in the Dashi mountainous area find more paths to prosperity.

Through my investigations, I have also come to realize that along with the large-scale progress of poverty alleviation through industrial development, raising the level of organization of rural residents is becoming increasingly important. The industrial development of some poor villages still depends on individual families struggling on their own. There are places that are promoting the planting and breeding industries at the same time, and thus these industries are becoming homogenized. As a result, while the scale of farming has expanded, marketing challenges are also emerging, even to the point of increased production without increased profit. There are still many households which have not yet found the right path to lift themselves out of poverty; they either do not dare, or do not have the ability, to do what they want.

To solve these problems, we need to organize impoverished communities to carry out large-scale and intensive development. We need to focus on technological support in the initial stage, production organization in the middle stage, and sales and marketing in the final stage, so as to gradually form industrial chains for poverty alleviation that are high in value added and strongly competitive.

It is essential that we leverage the guiding role of leading enterprises in organizing the public. At present, Chinese villagers share a common scarcity of funding, technology, information, and talent, and have found that it is difficult to overcome the issues of industrial development by themselves. Leading enterprises have an advantage in terms of capital, technology, management, factory processing, sales, and talent, and could effectively organize decentralized and impoverished communities.

In organizing the public, we must also unleash the tremendous potential of village e-commerce. The rapid development of e-commerce is changing the nature of agricultural product sales in poverty-stricken areas on a previously unimaginable level. Located in Rong’an County of Liuzhou, in the rocky desertified regions of Yunnan, Guangxi, and Guizhou, is China’s “home of kumquat.” In the past, the path to market was a difficult one, and heartbreakingly, many kumquats were left to rot in the orchards. In recent years, Rong’an County has expanded kumquat sales through e-commerce, gradually shaping “Rong’an kumquats” into a successful brand. Last year, more than 30,000 tons of kumquats were sold online, with total sales exceeding 1 billion yuan. Presently, the region’s rural e-commerce coverage rate has reached 92.8%.

II. Alleviating poverty through relocation does not just mean moving people from one place to another.

Handing over the keys does not equate to settling down in a new home. It is critical that we strengthen follow-up support after relocation. Only when people’s land and forest rights and interests remain unchanged will they feel a sense of assurance, only when people can access a full array of supporting services will they feel secure, only when people can make the most of local conditions to develop industry will they feel at ease, and only when people can find jobs and earn money will they be happy. Only when these criteria are met will relocated people truly be able to integrate into their new homes, and live and work in peace and contentment.

Relocation is one important means of helping people who live in extremely impoverished areas. A total of 710,000 people registered as living in poverty in Guangxi need to be relocated during the 13th Five-Year Plan period (2016-2020); it is not difficult to imagine the scale and importance of this operation.

The first difficulty is convincing people to move. Many are reluctant to leave the place where their family has lived for generations, and getting them to leave willingly is no easy task. County and township officials have told me that quite a few people who have moved previously have been unable to adjust and have subsequently moved back again. Dabing in Angtun Village, Delong Township, Napo County, is a place hidden deep in the mountains. The inhabitants of this ethnically Yao settlement are linked to the outside world only by a steep and winding mud track. A friendly Yao resident invited me into his wooden house, and we sat for a long time together, hand in hand. From our talks, I understood that the impoverished inhabitants of the village relied on growing star anise, fir trees, and camellia for their livelihoods, which were slow to grow and brought them little income. Although 34 households had already been relocated, there were 29 remaining who feared a change in policy and were unwilling to move.

In order to safeguard the smooth implementation of the “alleviating poverty through relocation” campaign, we have clarified the relevant policies. There has been no change to people’s original land and forest rights and interests after relocation, so as to offer some measures of reassurance, and we have issued subsidies to relocating households, and helped people find employment to dispel their concerns. After a year of hard work, region-wide more than 43 billion yuan has been invested into construction, more than 3,400 hectares of land has been used for projects, more than 168,000 housing units for relocation have been completed, and 694,000 people have been relocated, reaching a relocation rate of 99.7%.

Moving on from the issue of moving people out, the second difficulty is enabling them to live stably. On the eve of National Day in 2018, I was conducting research in Longsheng Ethnic Minority Autonomous County. After dinner, around eight o’clock in the evening, I suddenly hit upon the idea to go and have a look at the housing settlement near where I was staying. The housing was well constructed, although it seemed to be slightly lacking in atmosphere. There were very few lights in people’s windows, and I knocked on several doors without response. Finally, on the seventh floor I knocked upon the door of Wu Guangwen, who answered. He told me that there were nine people in their family, and after moving into their new home of more than 110 square meters, their living conditions improved significantly. The children were able to study, and it was much easier to take their elderly family members to the doctor. However, it was still not easy to find steady work, and for this reason Wu Guangwen’s father was still living in their previous home more than 50 kilometers away, because he could not bear to abandon their several mu of mountain land.

“To go running back such a long way to farm the land is neither cost-effective nor realistic.” The situation at the housing settlement is clearly not an isolated case, and “handing over the keys” does not equate to settling down in a new home. There is still a great deal of work to be done after relocation, such as managing the farmland and forest in the original villages, organizing social governance in the resettlements, and monitoring the situation and providing ongoing follow-up support. After poor people move away from places where they have lived for generations, their ways of work and life undergo fundamental changes, and as such there are many issues of maladjustment in the resettlement zones. There is a need to introduce a model for community governance, improve public services such as education and healthcare, and continue to provide help and support, to enable relocated people to better integrate into the new environment and achieve the transition from rural to urban resident.

Thanks to the concerted efforts of all parties, by the end of last year, resettlement zones in Guangxi had benefitted from the construction of 389 kindergartens, 406 primary schools, 370 hospitals (including health centers and medical clinics), and 258 rural trade markets, as well as the establishment of 269 resettlement community CPC organizations, 267 resettlement community committees, and 180 community migration service centers. In addition to this, we continued to monitor and provide help and assistance to relocated people, with a view to increasing the convenience and quality of schooling, healthcare, employment, and entrepreneurship in the resettlement zones, which has created a visibly stronger sense of belonging in these areas.

The most concerning issue for resettling people living in poverty is employment and income. Only when people have a stable source of income can they stay in their new homes and enjoy peace of mind. The approach to this issue of the Baiku Yao ethnic group in Nandan County of Hechi City is praiseworthy; from the very beginning they planned the “1,000-Yao family village, 10,000-household Yao township,” a resettlement and tourism development project for poverty alleviation, which involved building 2,471 new homes and resettling 13,500 people who were living in poverty. Single-family homes in the resettlement are scattered picturesquely along the mountains, and there is a strong display of local ethnic customs, with various elements of Yao culture visible such as ox horns, shotguns, bird cages, the “King’s Seal” ethnic Yao clothing, and spinning tops. Through the combined campaigns of alleviating poverty through relocation, promoting folk customs and culture, and encouraging tourism and development, there has been tremendous development in industries related to local ethnic customs and tourism. This has enabled this ethnic minority, which has gradually shifted from a primitive society to socialist society, to embark on a path of sustained poverty alleviation and prosperity.

The poverty alleviation workshop in the Anle New Area resettlement zone in Yong’an Town, Du’an County also received a very positive response from the community. An electronic toy company was brought in to provide free skills training for poor households, and after completing the training, people were employed directly into the company. The company was able to offer over 300 positions, and a per capita monthly salary of over 2,200 yuan. When I went to investigate, one participant from the workshop remarked happily that “moving from our old place in the mountains has not only meant we can live in a new house, but also that I can earn money locally. The Party’s policy really is great!”

Alleviating poverty through relocation is a formidable and systematic project, and a campaign in which today’s efforts will benefit and improve people’s lives for generations to come. There have been revolutionary changes in the ways of living and working for people who have been resettled, and they are still likely to face all sorts of difficulties and issues in the future. However, the broad smiles of children in the resettlements give us a deep sense that relocation has planted the seeds of hope for a wonderful life, and that stable housing represents great progress toward that new life.

III. Our bottom line and main task is to guarantee living standards by ensuring people’s basic needs are met.

Ensuring that people are well-fed and warmly-clad and have adequate access to education, healthcare, and housing is a basic requirement and core indicator for lifting people out of poverty. Looking at the situation in Guangxi, the most prominent issue at present is the “3+1” problem, which refers to compulsory education, basic healthcare, and secure housing, plus the issue of safe drinking water. Greater effort and investment are needed on this front.

In October 2018, I went to conduct research in Longxu Village of Gongdong Township, in Rongshui Miao Autonomous County. There I met a man named Long Guantun from a poor household, and was deeply moved by his spirit. Despite great hardships, he had managed to raise two children and put them through college. When I spoke to him, the children had graduated, he had paid off his debts and built a new house, and his life was about to become much easier. Time and time again during interviews, I saw that although extreme poverty and hardship can be manifested in a thousand different ways, the causes can so often be traced back to education. In recent years, we have comprehensively implemented policies of poverty alleviation through education in Guangxi and greatly increased the level of funding in this area. We have completed renovations on 1,925 poorly constructed schools providing compulsory education, aided more than 1 million students registered as living in poor households, persuaded 4,584 poor school drop-outs to return to study, and achieved tangible results in getting children from poor families to go to school.

Ending up in or returning to poverty due to illness is a long-standing problem in the fight against poverty. In recent years, in order to address the difficulty and expense of seeing a doctor for people living in poverty in Guangxi, we have launched poverty alleviation healthcare programs, improved medical and hygiene services in impoverished regions, strengthened various safeguards such as insurance for basic healthcare, major illness, and medical assistance, and continued to combine government investment with social support and individual participation. Furthermore, we have strengthened healthcare teams in poverty-stricken regions, and promoted a “one-stop” system for medical fee settlement for people living in poverty, with a view to reducing their concerns around healthcare costs.

In September 2018, I went to the Daxin County Hospital Service Center to investigate and learn more about the “one-stop” service center for healthcare and poverty alleviation and the immediate settlement system that they had launched. The system of “zero legwork” for bill reimbursement and “zero pressure” for advance payment for patients affected by poverty received excellent public feedback. After enquiring in detail about medical treatment, reimbursement, and other such scenarios, I felt as though this was a good model. On this basis, we can further consolidate and improve the model, and ensure relevant policies aimed at improving people’s wellbeing are used properly, fairly, and effectively.

To judge someone’s financial status, you only need to look at their housing. Similarly, the degree of poverty or wealth in a village can be seen from the buildings. Throughout my investigations, I saw many old houses in varying states of disrepair, with seriously damaged sections on their walls, roofs, and beams patched up with bamboo thatching. In recent years, Guangxi has focused on the issue of safe housing for people living in poverty, prioritizing renovating dilapidated rural buildings in and allocating funding to deeply impoverished regions, and increasing subsidies for renovating dilapidated rural housing in poverty-stricken counties. With a national subsidy baseline of 14,000 yuan for renovating dilapidated housing, each household is further entitled to a subsidy of 40,000 yuan or more. Between 2016 and 2018, a total of 9.256 billion yuan was spent on renovating 406,000 dilapidated houses. Through these efforts, almost 1.5 million people living in poverty were able to move into safe and comfortable new housing.

“Water flows underground while the people worry above, the paddy fields are dry, and drinking water is as precious as oil.” This is a true portrayal of life in Guangxi’s Dashi mountainous area, and also an important cause of poverty. Many people living in poverty rely on nothing but rain water for their survival, which they catch in extremely crude self-built water reservoirs. The water mixes with waste particles, and drinking it long-term has a definite impact on health. Between 2016 and 2018, Guangxi accelerated projects to consolidate and improve rural drinking water safety, focusing on resolving the issue of safe drinking water for the impoverished population of the Dashi mountainous area. An accumulated total of 4.046 billion yuan was invested, benefitting 4.653 million people, and at the same time resolving the safe drinking water problem for 1.0726 million people living in poverty.

There remains a formidable host of work if we are to fix shortcomings in infrastructure and public services in order to ensure compulsory education, basic healthcare, secure housing, and safe drinking water, and make sure that people are well-fed and warmly-clad. We must adopt extraordinary measures, take actual conditions into account, and perform all our work more meticulously, solidly, and effectively, so as to create better conditions to steadily lift people out of poverty and sustain long-term development.

IV. Helping to build a good Party branch is more effective than giving financial or material aid.

The key to a village’s wealth is its CPC branch. In the fight to lift a village out of poverty, it is vital to give full play to the “backbone” of the village, that is, its CPC organization.

While carrying out research in Guangxi’s remote Jiulong Village of Qiaoyin Township, Fengshan County, I saw that this once humble, stony, and desertified village had beaten the odds to become the “Bala Monkey Mountain Scenic Area.” The ecology of this small village had been seriously damaged, and for 20 years, the village’s Party branch secretary Luo Qiyue mobilized the residents to protect forested areas, restore the natural ecology, and invested money into building a protected area for wild macaque monkeys. The ecological environment has become healthy, and over 400 macaque monkeys have returned to the area, attracting spontaneous visits from large numbers of tourists. This surge in ecotourism has lifted the village residents out of poverty. “Bala Village, once described as a place where ‘the people are poor, the land bare, and the mountains barren,’ no longer has any poor households,” said Luo Qiyue. In truth, these changes are thanks to the many years of perseverance and encouragement from the Party branch. The case of Bala Village proves beyond doubt that if we are to win the fight against poverty, it is paramount that we grasp Party building at the community level and give full play to the primary role of local Party organizations and the role of Party members as exemplary models.

The work to eradicate poverty takes place at the community level, services for people living in poverty are provided at the community level, and accordingly, the results of our labor can be seen at the community level. Putting the CPC’s strength at the forefront of poverty alleviation, upholding village Party organizations as a leadership core, and building the backbone of our efforts in poverty alleviation are the underlying themes of Party building and the fight to lift people out of poverty. Moreover, the key to success within these endeavors is to select outstanding individuals, who are publicly acknowledged as reliable, competent, and eager, to act as village Party secretaries, and to select suitable heads for the villagers’ committees. In recent years, Guangxi has fully implemented the “star rating” management system for Party organizations in 5,379 impoverished villages. Through “one village, one policy,” Guangxi has adopted a suite of consolidating measures, such as assigning responsibility for impoverished villages to specific leaders and government organizations, sending working groups to provide comprehensive guidance, pairing township officials with designated villages to rectify certain malpractices, and establishing the position of village-stationed first secretaries to provide assistance, thus continuously upgrading the political and service functions of Party organizations.

During my investigations, I saw vividly with the support of policies for targeted poverty alleviation, if all regions of Guangxi simply firm up local Party organizations as the backbone of their efforts, find a development path that suits their own reality, and mobilize the people to work solidly, then people living in poverty will be able to stand tall, their pockets will be filled, and the collective village economy will become strong.

Lu Xinshe is Secretary of the CPC Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Regional Committee.

(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 9, 2019)