In the winter of 08/09 I had the chance to visit one of the project sites that the charity I work for had been involved with. The place we were visiting was about 3 hours from Lanzhou in rural Gansu province. It was so cold that day that it actually ruined the mp3 player that I had in my coat pocket.
When we arrived in the town I noticed the man looking across the fields and took this picture.
It turned out that he was one of the villagers that had benefited from the projects, and so we ended up having a chance to get to see his home. It was simple, but far better than many of the ones I had seen in Guangxi province. It was a two-story cement and brick building with a decent sized cement yard that had a few goats in a barn-like structure in back.
This village had been selected mostly for reforestation projects, since this area was prone to dust storms and mudslides. The project consisted not only of hiring farmers to plant trees, but also built solar stoves and bio-gas systems. These second to projects nearly eliminated the villagers need for wood, and ensured that the new trees would not be chopped down again (for more on these kinds of projects read “The Paradox of Development”).
In this area we also visited another small town that was “famous” for growing potatoes. It was much worse off than the first one we visited, and the houses here were mud and stick structures of the sort that make foreigners nervous. It was bitterly cold indoors and out here since few of the buildings were well enough insulated to bother heating. There we had a chance to talk with more of the villagers; there were many old people and children, but few in between.
Around Longzhou, where I did most of my exploring, the farmers’ lives didn’t seem much better. The main crop had switched from rice production to growing sugar cane about 5 years before I arrived. For the most part, sugar cane seemed to grow fairly easily, because I rarely saw farmers tending their fields outside of planting and harvesting. Much more attention went into their smaller plots that they set aside for vegetables for their families.
The homes of farmers here were also of simple construction. Brick was the most common for farmers who didn’t have family members working in factories. You could always tell which family had sent members away, because there were always new cement homes being built.
Tomorrow we’ll be looking at the policies that keep farmers poor.