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Ending Poverty in China: Small projects bring big benefits

Sitie Wang's picture
Also available in: 中文
This blog is part of a series produced to commemorate End Poverty Day (October 17), focusing on China – which has contributed more than any other country to global poverty reduction – and its efforts to end extreme poverty by 2020. Read the blog series here. 
In April 2016, I traveled to east Sichuan on a fact-finding trip on poverty programs and was impressed by the four small projects that I saw in Fengkanmiao Village in Dayan Township, Nanbu County. The projects focus on small-scale livestock, poultry and fish farming, small orchard, vegetable garden and tree plantation, small workshops for food processing or local traditional products, and small business to sell agricultural produce or grocery merchandise.
Photo: Li Wenyong
“Raising some chicken and ducks in the backyard and pigs requires little investment and brings quick returns. It is practical business,” said 61-year-old villager Zhang Dingke. He told me that he used to rely on farming and live from hand to mouth. And after his two kids got into university, life became even harder. Early last year, he started small-scale poultry and pig farming with some government support, and earned more than RMB17,000 yuan (about $2,530) in income.   
China has hit the home stretch in poverty reduction. Thanks to persistent efforts in the past decades, the poor that were easier to help have already gotten out of poverty. Today most of the remaining poor villages are in mountainous areas with little cultivated land, scarce natural resources, and poor road and communication access. People in those villages live in deep poverty.
Poverty is caused by a range of factors: 42% of the people who fell into poverty in China did so because of ill health and related costs. The percentage was even higher in Sichuan at 53.9%. Some poor families do not have any decent furniture. Some do not even have bedsheets or mosquito nets.
The marginal cost of reducing poverty has been increasing, and the task is getting harder. The constraints faced by poor villages include lack of natural resources, poor location and infrastructure, low technical skills and capacity, more old, weak or ill people, and lack of access to basic public services. Their low levels of productivity makes it difficult to develop modern agriculture and high value-added industry.
These four small projects are in alignment with the current level of productivity in poor villages, focused on family-based interventions. But when more than 200,000 poor households engaged in these ‘four small projects,’ it became a big project with greater benefits for the poor.      
According to some statistics, under the ‘four small projects’ launched in Nanbu County in early 2015, 1,800 poor households have engaged in the vegetable, fruit, livestock and poultry business; 26,687 mu(4,396 acre) fruit orchards, vegetable gardens and tree plantations have been developed; nearly 12,000 poor households have benefited from small-scale livestock, poultry or fish farming; and 1,600 poor households have worked on making wood or bamboo products, baked wheat cakes, bean curds or jelly noodles. Total incomes amounted to nearly RMB200 million (about $29.7 million) by the end of 2015, and 15,780 households got out of poverty.   
It takes the right recipe to root out poverty. Targeted poverty alleviation requires three things: practical program planning; basic public services; and access to education for the next generation. The experience of Nanbu County shows that no matter how big or small the project is as long as it works.