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Honey helps Guangdong village beat poverty

By LI WENFANG in Luhe, Guangdong | China Daily | Updated: 2020-10-26 09:17

Peng Zishun, who made a fortune in the steel business in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, after arriving there in 1987, started a tourism development company in his relatively poor home village of Luodong in Luhe county, Shanwei, Guangdong, in late 2015.

"I wanted my villagers to get richer. There was a man living next door, 26 years old, who could not find a wife because of poverty at the time," said Peng, who is now Party secretary of the village.

Tourism was chosen because of the natural scenery in the lush mountains surrounding the village, as well as its stream and the thousands of plum trees that bloom there in January.

The village received 30,000 visitors on the peak day of the plum blossom festival in January last year, with restaurants and hotels booked solid. Locally grown and processed foods, such as preserved plums and plum liquor, also sold well.

In April 2016, Li Jianwen, who used to be deputy Party chief of the traditional Chinese medicine department at Guangdong Food and Drug Vocational College, was assigned to the impoverished village to help it prosper.

"The road to the village was very narrow and twisty. Beside the road is the river 30 meters below. My colleague was afraid to drive on and I took the wheel," Li recalled.

Li and his assistant first identified 34 households with 94 family members in Luodong as poverty-stricken, with 13 of the families having members who were capable of working.

In a family of seven, for instance, Peng Jisong, who worked at places such as construction sites outside the village, was his family's only income earner. His wife often had to buy rice and meat on credit.

Li brought cooking and restaurant service experts from his college to Luodong to train the staff of local restaurants, but he realized those efforts were not enough to rid the village of poverty.

An industry with relatively low investment and quick returns was necessary, and considering the area's natural resources, bee keeping eventually made it onto the village's anti-poverty agenda in early 2017.

However, it took a lot of persuasion to get poor villagers to participate in the program.

"Their income and their fragile financial structure did not allow even one little failure," Li said. "They did not have the mindset or the means."

In June 2017, the first batch of bees were distributed to villagers free.

Training sessions began being conducted on a regular basis. At Li's office, bee keeping courses were held three nights a week, and an expert team came to the village at least once a week to guide the villagers.

Blessed with favorable natural conditions, the villagers in the program reaped a hearty honey harvest and generated an average of 20,000 yuan ($2,991) per family that year. The addition of income earned from plum farming lifted the families above the poverty line.

With the bee population and honey money booming, villagers became more confident in the business. Peng Jisong, who had initially declined to take part in the program, started raising bees in late 2017. He earned 50,000 yuan from honey sales last year.

Some families not listed as poverty-stricken also jumped on the wagon.

Fifty-year-old Liao Shaoting used to cover the mosquito net over his bed with two layers of plastic sheets to protect him from rain drops that leaked through cracks in the ceiling. He joined the bee program in 2016, and last year he earned 50,000 yuan from bee keeping, plus another 6,000 yuan from plum farming.

"I was afraid (to start bee keeping)," he said. "Then professor Luo (Yuexiong) came many times to teach us. I went to Gaozhou in Maoming, Guangdong, on a honey harvesting tour. I wanted to do as well as other bee keepers." Luo is a former director of the Guangdong Entomological Institute's bee research center.

Liao has since rebuilt his house, which has two bedrooms, a kitchen and a flush toilet, mainly with a 40,000 yuan grant from the government for the renovation of dilapidated housing. He said he plans to raise more bees as well as goats.

Liao said he appreciates the improved environment in the village, which has a repaved road, renovated houses, public flush toilets and proper garbage collection, a result of the nationwide "building a new countryside" program.

To grow and boost branding of the bee business, a cooperative was established in 2018, and a young graduate named Peng Zhihua was persuaded to quit his previous job to lead it. Additionally, Li and his fellow villagers have planted about 6,000 trees on the mountain to expand the source of nectar for honeybees.

The village now has 1,873 registered residents in over 300 households. More than 400 of them are permanent residents, and others live or work in other places.

Families without work-capable members are lifted out of poverty with funds secured from related policies, including subsistence allowances.

Tourism, plum farming, bee keeping and solar-power-related jobs have become the four major sources of income in Luodong. The village is planning to build a honey processing plant, a bee museum and bee park, and with the expertise of Li's college, honey-based cosmetic products may also be developed.

To Li, who will eventually leave the village, the keys to Luodong's future include the deepening of the existing businesses, a consensus of villagers on the next stage of development and the return of more young people to reinvigorate their home village.


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