Better environment, better livelihood

By Duan Haiwang
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China Today, July 17, 2017
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Ding Wenguang (first right) discusses with impoverished farmers how to enhance poverty-relief projects. [Photo/China Today]

Ding Wenguang is a professor and doctoral supervisor at the School of Earth and Environmental Science of Lanzhou University. He is considered an interdisciplinary scholar across the three realms of education, public welfare, and consultation. Having studied at Simon Fraser University in Canada, Ding also worked for several years in an international NGO. In 2008 Ding used the RMB 200,000 bonus he had been awarded for his scientific research to establish the Gansu Yishan Yishui Center for Environmental and Social Development (Yishan Yishui).

Influential non-governmental think tank

Scientific decision-making and the social demand for a more open market place have spurred a proliferation of non-governmental think tanks.

Yishan Yishui leads this trend by virtue of its multifaceted studies on comprehensive community development, public policy, and relevant theories. In recent years the center has become an influential non-governmental think tank. Its focus is on providing a scientific basis for government decision-making, raising successful examples of community development schemes, and supporting theoretical research with concrete evidence. In November 2015, the National Federation of Social Sciences Circles commended the center on its contributions to building a new type of think tank.

A veteran of global development program management, Ding contributes his ideas and efforts towards strategic planning, consultation on domestic and international development agencies, and non-governmental organization (NGO) capacity building. The State Ethnic Affairs Commission of China and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) have invited him to contribute his expertise to the UNDP's China Culture and Development Partnership Framework. He has also been engaged in the monitoring and evaluation of World Bank sustainable agriculture projects, and in the preservation and development of cultural heritage. The Asian Development Bank has moreover invited Ding's input on social development issues.

Ding and his team have made significant poverty alleviation achievements in Gansu Province. And in the process the provincial government has gained valuable experience in implementing poverty relief projects that encompass every village and household. Ding has also raised several proposals to the provincial government on naturals reserve management, law enforcement, and supervisory mechanisms, among others. These have been adopted by relevant administrations with a view to improving governmental work strategies. In addition to all that, Ding is calling for enhanced public participation, especially from women, in legislation and public policy making. This proposal has received high commendation from the Legislative Affairs Commission of Gansu Provincial People's Congress and UN Women. Furthermore, Ding's evaluation of the impact of high-speed railways on grassland ecology in the Hexi Corridor has aroused wide concerns among the public and government officials alike. This appraisal has prompted modifications to the construction of high-speed railways in the province in efforts to preserve its ecological environment.

Poverty alleviation endeavor

Promoting community development through industrial projects is another Yishan Yishui mission. The center has expended considerable efforts on economic and social progress and environmental protection in China's western regions.

Ding has observed that NGOs in China seldom launch rural community development projects. In some ways this is understandable, as projects of this kind present a challenge in requiring substantial and sustained contributions to poor rural areas. Ding and his team have nevertheless concentrated their energies in this field for 10 or more years.

Since returning from Canada, Ding has paid close attention to progress in poor rural areas of Gansu Province. Having grown up in a poverty-stricken village, Ding knows all too well the misery of being poor. Meantime, his accumulated research over the years has expanded his understanding of the poverty issue. Based on his study and practice in 50 or more international programs on ecological and disaster management and poverty relief, Ding initiated the "disaster risk management – ecological rehabilitation – livelihood improvement" model; and also that of "cognition – mitigation – adaptation to climate change." Both fit the actual circumstances in China's arid and semi-arid regions.

"Our research has shown a link between poverty and environmental degradation as a cause of frequent natural disasters which, in turn, worsen poverty," Ding said. On the basis of their findings, Ding and his team have developed a guideline on facilitating community development. It entails making comprehensive plans that include poverty alleviation, environmental protection, disaster management, capacity building of rural communities, and systematically enhancing these sectors. Its aim to lift more people out of poverty, Yishan Yishui thus not only "transfuses" but also "makes" blood for poor areas. Developing profitable industrial projects and providing financial support are the main methods of making the "blood" that will enable Yishan Yishui to realize sustainable development of the community's economy. The center has raised funds through various government-sponsored programs that help poor areas initiate poverty relief projects.

Since 2012, Yishan Yishui has gained funds from the demonstration project to support social organizations through the central government budget for three successive years. Jointly launched by the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Civil Affairs, the project is the country's first scheme encouraging government purchases of social services from social organizations. Yishan Yishui drew on funds it had received totaling RMB 1.3 million to support needy groups and development projects. Over this three-year period, more than 1,300 impoverished farmers in three townships of Pingliang City, Gansu Province have doubled their incomes. At the same time, projects to restore the local ecological system have been carried out. For instance, the planting of fuelwood forests and grass has turned barren hills green, and at the same time controlled water and soil erosion.

Through making full use of his accumulated experience and resources gained from managing international development projects, Ding has raised more than RMB 150 million from other social organizations, including the Shih Wingching Foundation and Kadoorie Charitable Foundation. He has used these funds to construct infrastructure such as roads, village health clinics, and potable water systems. His contributions have benefited over 20,000 local residents, and also lent new impetus to provincial poverty alleviation plans.

Some farmers in poor areas of the province are illiterate and find learning new technologies a challenge. Yishan Yishui has consequently focused on training for local people and prioritized the capacity building of rural communities. Yishan Yishui team members organize activities like dramas, competitions, and prize distribution to encourage locals to take part in these training courses. So far, around 65,000 farmers in Gansu Province have taken part. They have thus expanded their knowledge of new technologies and ability to enhance productivity. Younger farmers can also obtain the latest agricultural information through their smart phone apps.

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