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Science helps karst-based Maonan ethnic group out of poverty By Wang Zhenhong, Wang Qian, Zhang Weilan, August 12, 2021
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Located in a typical karst landscape in a section of southwest China that is home to great numbers of impoverished people, Huanjiang Maonan Autonomous County, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region suffers from severe rocky desertification and soil erosion and is one of the poorest counties in China. The harsh, unwelcoming conditions in the administrative area have posed great challenges to its large population over the years. Many of its residents made meager livings growing crops like corn and sweet potatoes before poverty alleviation projects were implemented.


In 2001, researchers working at the Institute of Subtropical Agriculture, Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) began helping Huanjiang harness advantages and characteristics in order to protect the natural environment and reduce poverty in its borders.


I began engaging in grassroots-level poverty relief work in the county in 1994,” Huanjiang Deputy Magistrate and CAS researcher Zeng Fuping mentioned recently. We had two goals. One was to relocate residents who lived in the Mount Dashi area to resettlement sites in locations with more arable land and assist them with new farming endeavors. The other involved helping the people who didn’t relocate find new ways to make a living.


Huanjiang has managed to control rocky desertification, prevent severe soil erosion, and achieve sustainable growth after much trial and error. The county implemented a green development plan that balances both economic and environmental factors that was created by the CAS researchers who have been working there, and a cattle farm that can accommodate 200 head of cattle was built. Many local farmers became involved with the project and began growing high-quality forage grass on their land.


The poverty alleviation model that the CAS researchers developed has helped the county’s rural residents become more prosperous and live happier lives. The project also functions as an important example for the 400,000 individuals who have participated in relocation programs in Guangxi and for people who live in other karst regions. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has recognized the importance of the model and dubbed it the “Kenfu model.”


Kenfu resident Wu Liushun is one of the many impoverished villagers who have relocated to the hamlet and benefited from the scientific and technical support that the CAS has provided. He explained that researchers working for the academy taught the village’s residents new farming techniques and management skills in order to help them escape from poverty and increase their incomes.


Average net yearly income exceeded 14,460 yuan (US$2,100) in the Kenfu Huanjiang Ecological Migration Pilot Zone in 2019, which was more than the overall figure for the county and the surrounding area and much higher than the less than 300 yuan (US$45) that the people who relocated to the resettlement site made in 1996.


First, we began developing mandarin orange orchards on special terraces using techniques that the CAS researchers taught us,” Wu stated. I cultivated the trees on more than a hectare of land. We eventually started growing the Orah variety, which is a thick-skinned cultivar that is suited to the conditions that exist in our area. I hope my family and I can lead better lives and my children can go to their dream universities and earn decent livings.


The corn farms that used to exist in Huanjiang made the county’s fragile environment even worse,” Zeng explained. “Forage grass and cattle cause less damage to the soil. The land that the grass is grown on only needs to be ploughed every eight or nine years or perhaps even every 10 years. Erosion is now decreasing naturally.”


Our livestock used to graze on the wild grass in the mountains,” a cattle farmer living in Huanjiang’s Dieling village named Fang Jiuru recalled. “The high-quality forage grass that Zeng and his team introduced is more nutritious than the wild grass that grows here and has better yields. I received special training and began working at the cattle farm that was built in order to increase my income.


Per capita disposal income has risen from about 5,594 yuan (US$835) in 2012 to more than 10,927 yuan (US$1,600) in 2019 in rural Huanjiang, while consumption expenditures came to an average of about 9,362 yuan (US$1,400) last year, a year-on-year increase of 6.8 percent. The scientifically managed farming endeavors that have been pursued in the county have injected vitality into its environmental protection and poverty reduction efforts, and the administrative area has become a good example for places with similar problems.


“Some people’s incomes have multiplied almost ten-fold,” Zeng noted.


The research that we conducted has resulted in a new development model that may be useful for the international community,” Zeng continued. We hope to share our successful experiences with controlling rocky desertification and using science and technology to reduce poverty with people who inhabit karst regions in the countries that participate in the Belt and Road Initiative. We want to help them reduce the conflicts that exist between human beings and the landscapes in these areas and achieve green development.