Remote Xinjiang county alleviated from poverty with awarding measures
China's western region of Xinjiang, a historical, cultural and economic crossing point along the historic Silk Road, is one of the areas in China struggling to overcome poverty. While there are still over two-dozen counties and districts in Xinjiang still listed below the poverty line, the latest reports show 5 counties have been recently crossed off that list.
CRI's Yang Guang takes us through one of them in the extreme northwest of the region to find out how it has managed to shed its 'poverty' label.
Qapqal County is situated along the western part of Ili Prefecture, which is near the border between China and Kazakhstan. Lying between Ili River and the Wusun Mountains, Qapqal has three main ethnic groups living there: Hans, Uigurs and Xibes. Farming and herding livestock are what most here depend on for their livelihood. However, with younger generations moving to larger areas, Qapqal's population has been aging significantly over the past number of years.
Turshunjan Sawut works on November 19th in the ochard planting field in Quapqal County of Xinjiang Autonamous Region. [Photo: China Plus/Yang Guang]
Sixty-year-old Turshunjan Sawut is one of those who has remained in the County. Born in Qapqal, Turshunjan is typical of those who has decided to stay there for his whole life, growing crops and raising cattle. Three years ago, Turshunjan's wife passed away. Looking after his wife during her illness, Turshunjan wasn't able to work for years. Her medical treatment also chewed up most of the family's savings. Things seemed dire for Turshunjan until last year, when he found a job working to plant fruit trees.
"This field is developed by our government. They knew I was in a really difficult situation. One day they reached out to me and said they would provide this job to me. So I was hired. My duty is to plant and range these fruit trees, and I get paid a salary. It's only the second year I've been doing this. In five years when the trees bear fruit, the government will take 70 percent of the harvest and I can have the remaining 30 percent to sell, and onward every year thereafter. That should be a considerable and steady income for our family," Turshunjan said.
Today in Qapqal, orchard planting has turned to a major project for poverty relief.Over one million saplings have been planted on 733 hectares of farmland, equivalent to twice the size of Central Park in New York. The field is distributed among 220 impoverished families to manage. Even if no fruit grows in five years, each family can still obtain 12 thousand yuan as subsidies in the end. But Turshunjan says there is no reason not to work hard.
"On the days when I'm not in the field I feel tired and bored. But once I step into the field and start working I feel refreshed."
The saplings have not yet grown into trees one year after they were planted in the earth. But in five years fruits are expected to be borne. [Photo: China Plus/Yang Guang]
What came along with his job is also an increase in living conditions for Turshunjan's family. Lacking the money to build a quality house, Turshunjan used to live in a small, shabby mud-piled house that leaked water on rainy days. Thanks to government subsidies, two years ago Turshunjan moved into a much more comfortable house they built for themselves.
"When we built the new house, the government provided us with 28 thousand yuan. I myself spent around 30 thousand yuan. Then when my son got married and needed to build a house, the government gave him an additional 18 thousand yuan. Altogether it's a very big saver for us," Turshunjan said.
The most of new houses built by villagers in poverty are partly sponsored by the county government. [Photo: China Plus/Yang Guang]
This subsidy policy is extended to every impoverished household countywide. Meanwhile, Turshunjan got married again, with Hairnisa Mahmut who is 13 years younger than him. With an extra hand, the family was able to obtain some non-interest loans from the government and bought 17 sheep to herd. Hairnisa says their lives have improved dramatically. Looking to the future, Hairnisa says they plan to buy cows to sell dairy products when they earn enough money.
"When we bought the sheep, we had no place to keep them. Then government provided us with 8 thousand yuan to build a sheepfold. In the future we want to buy some cows because for older people like us, cows are easier to herd than the sheep that are always running around, and cows can yield more dairy products like milk and cream," Hairnisa said.
With the money they've earned, the couple now run a toy store in the village as well. Every day Turshunjan returns from the field, he helps his wife organize the goods they sell.
Turshunjan Sawut helps his wifi organize the toy goods they sell in their store on November 19th. [Photo: China Plus/Yang Guang]
Turshunjan's case is a mirror to the whole of Qapqal County, where poverty rate has fallen below 3 percent. Zhou Yuanli, head of Qapqal poverty relief office, says their goal is not to provide handouts, but opportunities.
"We award those families that have no wasted courtyard, no children who have quit school or those who aren't working. For every individual who holds a job for more than three months, we give them one thousand yuan; for half a year it would be raised to three thousand. Additionally, every family that plants vegetables in their courtyard or herds cows or sheep will get an extra 500 yuan. The thing is, if one person of a family can find a job, they can basically get rid of poverty; if a family don't waste their own courtyard but plants crops or herds livestock, they don't need to worry about food anymore," Zhou said.
Zhou Yuanli, head of Qapqal poverty relief office reads reports on November 18th in his office in Qabqal county government. [Photo: China Plus/Yang Guang]
So far over three thousand families, or more than 11 thousand people, have been pulled out of poverty. Among them, 25-hundred have stable jobs. For those who are finding difficulty with steady employment, the government provides free training sessions.This winter, the County government has organized a new round of construction training courses, which is open to all. Li Ruijing with an Ili-based construction company is in charge of training brick-laying skills.
"I teach them how to lay bricks to build a house. We are here, called by the government, to train. Any people can sign up. This program is aimed to help some villagers gain basic construction skills and hopefully land a good job when the winter passes. Last year, we also organized these kinds of sessions and I myself trained over one hundred people; thirty of them later were employed by construction companies and are able to earn up to five thousand yuan a month. A number of other apprentices also find some temporary work when certain families need to build houses."
Even though positive results have been produced on poverty alleviation, local officials admit that pulling people above the poverty line doesn't mean residents say goodbye to tough lives. There is still a long way to go. Local authorities say they're determined to completely eliminate poverty in the County this year.