I did not know what to expect, except for the promise of learning about the “rural development of China first hand.” From July 4-9, 2013, I was fortunate to have been part of the IPRCC sponsored trip in the rural part of China as a student representative of the School of Public Policy and Management of Tsinghua University.
Tucked in the hinterlands lies the province of Shanxi (Chinese: 山西; literally “West of the Mountains”), a less than an hour plane ride from Beijing, considered as part of the North China region. The main physical characteristic of Shanxi consists of a plateau bounded partly by mountain ranges.
What amazed me about Shanxi was its ability to exploit the natural resources that it has been endowed in a comprehensive manner for the benefit of its people. On one of the visits to Liulin County, an hour drive from the capital Taiyuan, the role of coal in the locality’s economy was undisputable as rows of giant factories line the highway. The coal extracted here is used to supply the energy needs not only of the town, but the whole country as well. Around the factories have sprouted residential and commercial areas, a typical picture of a boomtown. But more importantly, it was clear from this destination, the people of this area have been able to make the best of the natural resource endowments to serve not only its needs, but also contribute to the needs of the country. During the Q&A session, the townspeople highly acknowledged the positive role of the public and private cooperation that has led to the dramatic increase in the people’s livelihood.
This progressive town is not all about business, as the local government has established a community hospital, community social center, and an cooperative-government sponsored micro-financing enterprise that allows the townspeople to take out project-based loans for amounts ranging from 3000 to 6000 RMB.
The experience was further reinforced as the group traversed a range of mountains. An hour or so away traveling in the windy but smooth mountain roads, we expected to be brought to an idyllic nature spot. What we saw went beyond anyone’s wildest imagination.
In the barren lands between the giant mountains was a full-scale development headed by the company named LASAN. This company, which also operates the coal factories, has reinvested coal-profits to transform a barren plateau into a 10 billion yuan development project for a 158 square kilometer ecological agricultural park. In addition to the profit-motivation of the project, the social imperative is not lost, as the farmers who had contributed their land for the project compose 40% of the project’s equity. Upon being interviewed, the CEO, a native of the town, said that this colossal project is a chance to give back to the community that has been bountiful for persons like him. Though the successful completion of the project remains a couple of years ahead, such spirited approach to development surely provides for a solid foundation.
In addition to these megalith projects, the town is scattered with smaller enterprises that work on models that synergizes agriculture and industrial best practices for the benefit of the people. One example is the Hekou Town Potato Breeding Base. In this locality, the farmers own the farmlands. Due to the lack of capital that is required for investment on R&D and technological improvements, production levels had been unreliable and heavily dependent on the whims of nature. A persistent problem was the seeds inability to withstand pests. So the Breeding Base was set up to pool the farmers in a cooperative and establish a fund that can invest on research and development. The result has been phenomenal. From the scientific research, the company has been able to invent and distribute better seeds. These seeds have dramatically improved the production levels of the farmers.
Processing factories have also been carefully planned and established to support the seed factory, the farmers and their farmlands. These entities have been able to support the farmers improved livelihood by specializing in the monitoring of the market. The effectiveness of the system is evident, as the town has since produced higher-end- processed-potato-products such as potato noodles and potato-made starch.
The development model above is applied in cash crops beyond potatoes such as mushrooms, jujube, walnuts, and the wine industry. Each industry or sector was carefully considered and incorporated into the natural environment. For example, the jujube, or more commonly known as dates, a common nibbled snacks for Chinese households, are grown in the hot and dry areas of Sanjiao Town because the plant revels in the summer sun and heat.
My appreciation for the trip and the lessons I would take home were made more colorful by my interaction with the other participants that came from eleven different countries including Ghana, Uganda, Kenya, Mauritius, Maldives, Mali, Malawi, Columbia, Pakistan, and Nepal.
For instance, one of the participants named Luis who came from Columbia and who is the director of an NGO that helps over 12,000 farmers in his hometown, was an ever-ready teacher on the technical farming processes that were presented during the trip.
Without the support of the China’s Ministry of Commerce, IPRCC, School of Public Policy and Management of Tsinghua University and the distinguished local organizers, a student like me would not have had the chance to experience a trip that has since given me a newfound understanding on what comprehensive development really means!
The trip was superbly organized by NiÑo Lopue, and entertained by Milo and Chrissy Tan :) My thoughts on Tibet are still mix, however one thing I am sure of, you need really good & understanding friends to survive the high-altitude challenges of Tibet!
True friends push you to be the best... But better friends walk beside you to make sure you don't run out of air.