The relocation of the researcher, the agricultural plans allow the villagers to escape from entrenched poverty
It is often a bit difficult to find Zeng Fuping over the phone.
The 57-year-old spends half of his time carrying out agricultural studies and agricultural work deep in mountainous rural areas where reception can be poor.
Over the years, Zeng has doubled as deputy head of Huanjiang Maonan Autonomous County in Hechi in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, and as a researcher at the Institute of Subtropical Agriculture of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
He is affectionately nicknamed the “true anti-poverty”, namesake of his name in Mandarin.
Zeng was commissioned to improve conditions in Huanjiang County by the CAS in 1994, and says he was shocked at the abject poverty he saw upon his arrival.
“The villagers lived in leaking thatched cottages and drank yellow-green water,” he said, adding that some children did not even have clothes and that all a typical household had was a few hundred yuan. .
He wasted no time developing an understanding of the agricultural structure of the region, with a mind to changing living conditions.
Huanjiang is surrounded by mountains on all sides, and with the exception of Kenfu, an area with relatively open farmland, most of the villagers lived in rocky and mountainous areas that were not really suited to farming.
Always practical, they sometimes take shortcuts to avoid trouble. Some have planted millet after burning the soil, continuing the slash-and-burn technique developed thousands of years ago to improve soil fertility. Others planted kernels of corn in the cracks between the stones. But few have managed to make ends meet.
One of Zeng’s goals was to relocate mountain dwellers to nearby sites with more arable land and to help them in their new agricultural activities.
After studying the situation, Zeng decided to introduce more efficient crop varieties to Kenfu and provide training in farming skills to the villagers.
He opted for rice, fruits and potatoes as the best alternative crops, but soon found that it was difficult to persuade the villagers to try something they had never done before.
Zeng struggled to get to know the villagers at first, so to fit in better, he started spending time with them, chatting and drinking.
Once he got himself liked, he explained his proposal to introduce an alternative plantation, which mixed short-term market gardening and long-term sugarcane cultivation.
He estimated that one hectare of vegetables would bring in about 30,000 yuan ($ 3,570 at the time) per year, while sugarcane could sell for 300 yuan per ton, and he convinced the villagers that the method would increase. considerably their income.
“It would yield considerably more, even after deducting costs, as each household had about a third of a hectare,” Zeng explains, adding that the method would also allow residents to do other work when things are not. occupied and increase their income further.
His efforts paid off, Zeng won the trust of the villagers and they accepted his plans. In September 1996, he took a group of 500 people to Kenfu, which was then just a wilderness. They spent the first month building houses and preparing the land for agriculture.
Zeng proposed to mix scientific studies with agriculture, and each household was assigned a specific project. Farmers would take out loans to invest in agricultural training and equipment, while the CAS would be responsible for overseeing the scientific aspect of the development of fruits, vegetables, livestock and poultry in Kenfu.
In this way, a complete agricultural chain would be created, from land reclamation to supplying seedlings and selling produce, Zeng explains.
He also asked the CAS to help him set up a field site to study the karst ecology of the region, and as a result, he and his colleagues published around 30 papers on the agricultural potential of karst landscapes. over the years.
Zeng’s approach began to change lives, and he says basic issues, like lack of clothing and food, were resolved in 1997.
Liu Shengyou is one of the beneficiaries of Zeng’s work.
The 75-year-old is content with life today. He and his family live in a three-story house in Kenfu, an area now teeming with fruits like Shatang tangerine and pomelo.
He lived in Chaoge, a village located in a high and cold mountainous region, cut off from the outside. The land there was poor, and Liu and his family had only a few head of cattle.
“The year-round produce was barely enough to feed us for three to five months,” he says.
Since moving to Kenfu in 1996, Liu says he has seen Zeng daily and learned how to plant trees and protect them from pests.
Encouraged by the free technical support and funding provided by the local government in 1998, Liu and other villagers bought fruit plants and began to increase production.
In 2002, every household could afford to build spacious brick and mortar houses, and in 2017, per capita income reached 9,664 yuan ($ 1,500).
Zeng was named “Pioneer of the Year” by the CAS in 2019 for having designed a new system of cooperation between technical services, businesses and agricultural households in the fight against poverty.
The mechanism was dubbed the Kenfu Model by UNESCO for its success in eradicating rural poverty last year. By national standards, Maonan County was declared lifted out of poverty in May of last year.
As local incomes increased, Zeng turned his attention to the problems of dealing with wastes, both domestic sewage and wastes from existing aquaculture projects, seeping into the water supply.
He introduced the villagers to myriophylla, a kind of fern that can be grown in ponds. The plant is able to grow in water rich in nitrogen and phosphorus, both found in agricultural runoff, and is effective at filtering organic matter, while providing habitat for beneficial aquatic organisms. It can also be harvested afterwards, for use as high quality animal feed and as green manure.
“The land and water resources here are more precious and recycling should be taken into account,” Zeng said.
For Zeng, Huanjiang became his second home and he became familiar with all corners of the county. Residents now regard him as another Maonan, which he sees as the greatest recognition of his work.