Drought forces farmers to find new jobs

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Reeling from one of the worst droughts in a century, Gao Dekun and his wife have nothing left to harvest from their farmland in the hills of Southwest China's Yunnan province.

Gao, 48, a resident of Shiyang village in Zhangyi county, is now busy preparing a rice paddy to cultivate seedlings in order to ensure his family has food to eat.

A girl in Panxian county, Guizhou province, picks up stalks of withered wheat that had been reaped by her parents on Sunday. [China Daily]

A girl in Panxian county, Guizhou province, picks up stalks of withered wheat that had been reaped by her parents on Sunday. [China Daily]

"I've not seen a single drop of rain since last summer. I have lost all my crops," he said.

"Now I have to cultivate seeds on the only paddy field we have for the sowing season around mid-May, hoping there will be rain by then."

When and if it rains, the seedlings will be transplanted to the farmland.

"This way, I may recover part of my losses," he said.

"But if the drought continues, I will have nothing to harvest all year round and will try to make a living as a migrant worker."

Millions of other farmers in Yunnan province are as worried as Gao, because the severe drought has erased their summer harvest for wheat, leguminous plants and threatened the upcoming spring plowing season.

Local authorities are well aware of the farmers' plight.

If the situation worsens, one alternative the authorities have planned is to help farmers get jobs outside their areas as migrant workers, said Gao Shihua, head of Qujing city's agriculture bureau.

His bureau will offer free vocational training to 200,000 farmers in the hope that at least half of them will be able to find jobs.

The dry spell, which hit Qujing, a leading grain producer in Yunnan and a production base for growing and processing quality tobacco for the country, last July, has left nothing to harvest in 99 percent of its farmland, affecting more than half of its 6.16 million residents.

More than 1.3 million people are short of drinking water, said Rao Wei, vice-mayor of Qujing.

"Worst of all, the dry spell could go on for another 60 days, according to weather forecasts. We have to prepare for the worst and prevent further havoc for our people and local economy, particularly farming," he said.

The authorities and residents are taking measures to brace themselves for a prolonged dry spell by consolidating their existing water conservation projects with some new ones.

While the authorities have earmarked up to 480 million yuan ($72 million) for renovating and building water reservoirs, irrigation wells and water cellars, farmers throughout Qujing have started cultivating seedlings of corn, potato and tobacco with various technologies, particularly water-saving irrigation systems.

According to a plan unveiled last week, 25 key medium and small water resource projects will be built throughout Qujing to improve its farming irrigation, with a water supply secured for 1 million locals who are short of drinking water.

By the end of April, up to 7,500 wells will be dug and 1,000 other pumping wells will be drilled for farming.

In Dapo, a township of Zhanyi, work on seven emergency pumping wells, the deepest one reaching 160 meters, has been under way for months.

Four of them have hit water, while one has already been put into operation to supply drinking water for some 6,000 residents living nearby.

Li Zhiwei, the Party secretary of the town, said, "Each well costs about 300,000 yuan. Half of the money was raised by ourselves and the remainder was paid with subsidies from higher authorities."

The rest of the wells will be completed soon, he said, adding that water from those wells will be linked with the town's existing water supply network for both local drinking water and spring sowing.

To secure basic water supply for sowing, authorities in the Xihe Reservoir, the key water source for Qujing's 550,000 urban residents and 19,300 hectares of farmland and its key industries downstream, had to cut down on its daily water supply ration by 40 percent to support the farming in May.

"We only had 6.7 million cubic meters of water stored for the Qujing irrigation area this year. That is less than half of what we had the previous year," said Wang Ziyun, head of Qujing's water bureau.

"With the rationing, the reservoir can only supply water for 48 days from now. Without rainfall in May, the water we have for transplanting rice seedlings in the irrigation zone will run out," he said.

"To mitigate the damages, the government has to make full use of existing water conservancy projects and has called on farmers to prepare their cropland for the spring sowing around mid-May in the hope of recouping the losses from the catastrophe," he said.

"That's at the top of our minds."

"As a traditional rain-fed farming area in Yunnan, one of the most important lessons we learned from the drought is to make full use of irrigation," said Peng Zhineng, head of Qujing's water bureau.

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