Work relief programs empower residents, vitalize villages in central and western China by Jin Ling, March 15, 2023
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Having recently eliminated absolute poverty, China is currently pursuing comprehensive rural vitalization as it progresses along its rural and agricultural development journey.

The“Opinions of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and State Council on Realizing Effective Interconnection Between the Consolidation and Expansion of Poverty Alleviation Achievements and Rural Vitalization” document published in early 2021 encourages the wide incorporation of work relief programs into rural living environment improvement, small-scale water facility, road construction, farmland improvement, water and soil conservation, industrial park construction, forestry and grassland infrastructure, and other projects in its formerly impoverished administrative areas during the 14th Five-Year Plan period, i.e.,2021-2025. The communiqué also stipulates that central government funding earmarked for this purpose should be integrated into relevant budgets and that remuneration should be provided in full and on time.

Work relief is an important part of ensuring that people have access to stable employment after they escape from poverty– an objective that helps keep them from falling back into it and promotes the consolidation and expansion of key poverty alleviation achievements and realization of effective connections with rural vitalization. Approximately30 billion yuan (US$4.71 billion) of funding provided by the central government and 3.5 billion yuan (US$549.15 million) of funding provided by local governments has been invested in 25,000 of the programs in central and western China since the beginning of the 13th Five-Year Plan period (2016-2020), which resulted in 1.1 million jobs being created for formerly impoverished people. Stories about some of the programs that have been implemented in Tibet Autonomous Region and Jiangxi province appear below.

Promoting the development of rural industries andempowering villagers


A small canal flows next to a road that leads toSauguet village,Niandui township,Gyangze county, Xigaze city, Tibet Autonomous Region. (Photo courtesy of Shanghai-Tibet paired assistance WeChat official account)

A small canal flows next to a road that leads to Sauguet village, Niandui township, Gyangze county, Xigaze city, Tibet Autonomous Region. Participants of a local work relief program transformed the formerly impoverished hamlet into a livable prosperous demonstration village with the help of a paired assistance group from Shanghai tasked with helping the county.

Situated near National Highway 349 just 5.5 km from the local county seat, Sauguet village is located along the route between Lhasa prefecture-level city and Yamdrok Lake, central Gyangze and downtown Xigaze. The village had a relatively poor living environment, weak infrastructure, and backward collective economy and its residents mostly relied on agriculture or worked in other areas until recently, however. A Shanghai-Tibet paired assistance group tasked with helping Gyangze eventually began helping the underdeveloped hamlet’s residents boost their incomes by launching a campaign to transform it into a prosperous demonstration village that takes advantage of its location.

The assistance group began investing heavily in phase I of the project in the second half of 2019. Roads were paved, streetlights were installed, the environment was greened, water supply and sewage facilities were constructed, homes were renovated and connected to upgraded infrastructure, and other undertakings were completed in conjunction with a work relief program that paid local farmers and herders over260,000 yuan (US$40,794) for 1,150 man-days of work. Livelihood-oriented endeavors, such as the establishment of a beekeeping cooperative, development of the Gyangze Highland Barley brand, and upgrade of local handicraft production, have also been pursued and have resulted in incomes rising and industrial efficiency improving in the demonstration village. The efforts caused the happiness index to increase significantly in its borders and its environment to become much more livable.

“There are more development possibilities in our village now that its living environment has been improved,” a Sauguet resident who earned more than 4,000 yuan (US$628) participating in a remediation project named Depian mentioned.

Pleasant scenery currently abounds in the beautified village, and the Vast Highland Barley Field that runs through its borders has become a popular tourism destination.

Sauguet’s industries began to develop as it became more well-known, but a lack of skilled personnel continued to constrain vitalization in the village and the rest of Gyangze. The Red River Valley Agricultural Park was constructed just five minutes away from the hamlet in an attempt to break through the bottleneck, however. Produce, roses, and other high-value agricultural products are grown in greenhouses, and training is provided onsite and at other locations, which helps participants increase their incomes. It is estimated that the roses that are produced at the park generate hundreds of thousands of yuan (tens of thousands of U.S. dollars) of economic benefits alone.

“Construction projects are only one part of achieving long-term prosperity,” stated Wang Fang, Shanghai-Tibet paired assistance official and deputy head of Gyangze. “Industrial vitalization is also very important. We want to help more people in the area learn modern agricultural skills and become familiar with modern concepts and ideas so they can prosper over the long term.”

Formerly impoverished Gyangze resident Nyima Tsering began working at the Red River Valley Agricultural Park at the end of 2019 after completing training courses in Shanghai. He has participated in strawberry cultivation, tomato management and protection, and other projects at the site, which has resulted in his income rising and becoming much more stable than it was before. The farmer became the leader of a small team after gaining appreciable experience with modern agricultural production over the last few years as well.

“We have broadened our horizons and learned new skills at the park, which helps us increase our incomes and promotes the development of modern agriculture in other villages and towns in the area,” Nyima explained. “I may also be able to start my own business in the future when conditions are ripe.”

“A golden modern agriculture corridor has taken root in Gyangze between Sauguet and Red River Valley Park,” noted Zhang Yi, a Shanghai-Tibet paired assistance official and executive deputy secretary of the county’s Party committee. “Local laborers have been making more money than they did before by participating in everything from environmental improvement to the upgrade of the agricultural industry. Human capital and technical know-how have been steadily increasing as well, which stimulates further development. The experience and expertise that have been gained promote rural vitalization throughout Gyangze.”

“Talents are a crucial part of rural vitalization,” Wang remarked.“Capable villagers help fuel development.”

The paired assistance official added that it is important that farmers learn new skills and that modern development concepts take root so that the undertaking becomes more organic and that work relief is a good way to facilitate this process.

Projectsinvolving local laborers improveliving and working conditions

Luokou township, Ningdu county, Ganzhou city, Jiangxi province, residents have not always been able to work in other areas since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged due to the prevention and control measures that have been implemented. Luokou township eventually applied for funding for a work relief program involving the construction of roads and water conservancy facilities in response to the situation, which has helped prevent families who had escaped from poverty from falling back into it.

“I have been building roads for a long time, but this is the first time that I have worked on one in my hometown,” Luokou village resident Lai Xiaomao – one of more than a dozen people who work at the site who have emerged from poverty in recent years – said happily while seated in a backhoe clutching one of its joystick controllers.

Ningdu’s Huitong township also implemented a work relief program involving hardening the muddy roads that existed in a village under its administration known as Baisheng at the end of 2020.

“I used some of the money I earned constructing roads to start raising chickens and plant 500 navel orange trees,” smiled Lai Yongqing, a participant who earned 14,080 yuan (US$2,209) working44 days.

The poor transportation that existed in the past made it difficult for the village’s farmers to sell their chickens and produce; the improvements that were made to the roads helped Baisheng become more prosperous. Gannan navel orange – a sweet, juicy national geographical indication navel orange produced in southern Jiangxi – orchards thrive on the hills in the area, and plump yellow chickens roam the village’s farms. Jiangxi Huida Industrial Co. Ltd. signed a chicken farming contract with 20 Baisheng households and provided them with baby chicks, feed, pandemic prevention and control guidance, and technical training. The organization also purchases the birds that are raised at guaranteed prices, which resulted in the families’ annual incomes rising by an average of more than 30,000 yuan (US$4,707).

Huitong applied to receive funding for two more work relief programs from Ningdu in 2021. Township Head Lu Rong noted that most of the programs currently only cover costs related to construction. He hopes that future programs will be wider in scope and that more funding will be provided for the management and upkeep of completed infrastructure and facilities, as well as for village cleaners, forest rangers, and other public service positions, so work relief can become a long-term endeavor and play a greater role in promoting rural vitalization.

Managing finances efficiently and teaching farmers new skills

In recent years, Ganzhou has incorporated all of the work relief funds that it provides into its agricultural funding and delegated rural development-related project approval authority to the counties and districts that administer the administrative areas that apply for such projects in order to improve the efficiency of their utilization.

Lu mentioned that Huitong formulated measures designed to ensure that participants receive their wages on time and in full. The official explained that a clearly written contract is signed with each construction unit that is involved with a work relief program and publicized through the village committee of the hamlet that is involved in order to ensure that the correct proportion of a project’s budget is devoted to labor remuneration and promote financial transparency in general before commencement and emphasized that construction units must present payment forms signed by participants as part of the settlement process after a completed project has passed inspections.

A typical mountainous territory that mostly depends on agriculture for income, Shicheng county, Ganzhou city, Jiangxi province, has implemented 60 work relief programs in the past five years. The administrative area established a database designed to prevent redundant funding applications, rigorously standardized its funding appropriation system, ensured that dedicated accounts are used for fund allocation and management, strengthened supervision and field inspection, and audits funding usage and total workload associated with every completed project in order to improve management.

“Work relief is an investment in labor,” stated Institute of Marxism at Shanghai University of Finance and Economics associate professor Cao Dongbo. “It empowers people by helping them learn new skills, improve their living conditions, reduce poverty and increase their incomes. Replacing direct relief with work relief helps rural residents become poverty alleviation and rural vitalization leaders and stimulates their development initiative.”