When 25-year-old Yang Qiangyou, a migrant worker, was laid off from a factory in Shanghai two months ago in the wake of the deepening recession, he had no idea what his next move should be.
Unable to find work, Yang returned to his hometown, a remote village of the Chongqing. It was a move he does not regret one bit.
A stone's throw away from his village home, Yang found work on a piece of land as a tobacco grower, a far better paying job than that of a factory worker.
So what if he's helping an industry that kills an estimated 1 million Chinese a year? "At least, I can now feed my family. And I am not doing anything illegal," Yang said.
Over the past four years, China's State Tobacco Monopoly Administration has invested 20 billion yuan building irrigation facilities, water reservoirs and other infrastructure in a number of starving villages across the country.
The administration's only request is that the villagers grow tobacco, among other crops.
The annual per capita income of Yang's village in Qianjiang district was 3,770 yuan this year, up about 1,000 yuan from 2007.
The rise in their earnings, the villagers believe, is all thanks to the irrigation and reservoir works built by the country's tobacco industry in 2007.
"The project helps villagers of this originally water-scarce area drink safe water, irrigate other crops and raise more than 3,000 pigs," said Luo Yong, the village committee party secretary.
The move echoes calls from the central government that the tobacco administration makes efforts to lift farmers out of poverty, considering most tobacco fields are located in remote and poor regions.
Out of the country's 592 poverty-stricken counties, 185 now grow tobacco.
"We will invest another 40 billion yuan for tobacco farmers to increase their acreage by 35 million mu (2.33 million hectares)," said Jiang Chengkang, a top official with the national tobacco monopoly.
"It will benefit an expected 2.4 million households that grow tobacco," he added.
He Zehua, deputy head of the administration said: "The field is our first workshop. There can be no development in the tobacco industry unless it benefits the farmers."
Over the past four years, the administration has built about 990,000 reservoirs, 7,988 km of road and 758 bridges nationwide, improving greatly the production capacity and conditions of the country's 35 million mu tobacco fields in rural areas.
From January to November this year, the country's tobacco industry produced more than 42 million boxes of cigarettes, an increase of 2.26 million boxes compared to the same period last year.
It has paid 430 billion yuan in taxes in the first 11 months, an increase of about 65 billion yuan last year. An estimated 1 million Chinese die of smoking-related diseases every year in the country, which is home to about 350 million smokers.
Source: China Daily