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Chinese Farmers Turning Karst Land into Gold
Li Rongliang, a farmer from Mashan county, in south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, still remembers the only drinking water for locals could find a decade ago was from a geyser at the foot of a mountain near his village.

Today, Nongla village, where Li lives, has four springs and a number of water storage ponds, providing adequate water for more than 120 villagers.

A decade ago, the local government sent cadres to the village to help local farmers to break the poverty cycle. The cadres taught them how to plant fruit and non-fruit bearing trees on the mountain sides, to conserve water.

The cadre-plus-farming method is one of the major measures the Chinese government has adopted to reduce poverty in the country. An official with the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Regional Party Committee said, 490,000 cadres of township-level government and above in the region were assigned last year to rural areas to help farmers develop economy and improve their living standards.

Nongla village, located in a denuded karst mountainous area, has similar problems to those common in China's other economically underdeveloped areas, where harsh living conditions and water shortage have hindered economic growth and adversely affected the locals' standards of living.

Thanks to the efforts made by locals in afforestation over the past decade, 72 percent of the village-owned land is now planted in precious Chinese medicinal herbs and fruit trees, with the forest cover rate in and around the village reaching 90 percent. Local villagers' per-capita annual income rose to 3,180 yuan (about US$383) last year, a rapid increase on the 100 yuan (some US$12) 20 years ago.

Nongla village covers one sq km, 80 percent of which is hilly and barren limestone. Local villagers have always thought their land could be used only for growing corn, but frequent floods made even this difficult.

With the help of cadres from township, county and autonomous regional-level governments, more Nongla villagers have learned the skill of growing medicinal herbs to make more money.

Farmer Liang Zhengwei now grows 1.33 hectares in medicinal herbs, which are sold to Beijing, Shanghai, Dalian and other Chinese cities. He said, "Now I have learned that it is important for needy farmers like us to master a practical skill to overcome poverty, especially those living in outlying mountainous areas."

Lu Feijie, director of the aid-the-needy office under the State Council, the Chinese cabinet, noted that poverty reduction should go hand in hand with sustainable growth, the sensible disposition and development of local resources, as well as protection of the environment.

Nongla villagers' success in developing local economy is a fine example of successes in both poverty reduction and sustainable development which other economically under-developed areas should follow, said Chen Mengxiong, an academician with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, who had visited the village recently.

By raising the living conditions and helping more needy people in economically under-developed areas to produce enough to feed themselves, the Chinese government has reduced the number of needy people in rural areas from 250 million in 1978 to 30 million in the year 2000.

(Xinhua News Agency August 5, 2002)

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