From herdsman to farmer, a journey in Inner Mongolia

10:17, July 25, 2010      

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Hagenna lowered his head slowly while being asked whether he missed his hometown where he herded his sheep.

"It's where I was born. Of course, I miss it," said the 51-year-old Mongolian.

Hagenna used to live as a herdsman behind the Erlang Mountain in north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, which is less than 200 km from the China-Mongolia border.

The mountain divides the Wulatehou Banner into two parts, and the part behind it has become increasingly barren due to poor traffic and a minimal infrastructure.

"We have no electricity there, and many families have to use windmills, which could hardly power a TV," said Hagenna.

Also, the grassland could barely support the herds that once grazed there.

"I had about 200 sheep then, and sometimes 300 if the rainfall was heavier. I had to buy some feed 160 km away in front of the mountain at a cost of almost two yuan per kilo, if the grass was too scarce due to a lack of rain," he said.

In fact, the annual rainfall practically determined Hagenna's income, either from several thousand yuan per year to nothing.

"The grassland was good in the late 1960s, but the price of sheep was only 60 cents per jin (half kilo)," he said.

In the 1980s, after the reforms and open policy was carried out, herders received their own grassland to graze on and the price of sheep skyrocketed to almost 400 yuan per sheep. Therefore, the number of sheep being grazed became increasingly larger.

According to statistics from the Wulatehou Banner Government, the number of livestock in 1999 surged 312 percent to 601,000, compared to 1973, causing the shrinking of the grasslands from 30 to 13 percent.

However, in 2002 the central government began a policy of returning grazing land to once again revert grassland, and many herders like Hagenna were relocated to preserve the ecological environment.

Hagenna moved out of his hometown in 2007 to Bayantala Gacha, or village, where he was granted 25 mu of farmland and began his farming life.

"Farming is much harder than herding for me, and I didn't know how to farm in the beginning," he said.

He received training organized free of charge by his village and county, and he learned from scratch.

He now grows sunflowers, corn, and also some grass to feed his 20 sheep, making a stable income of more than 10,000 yuan per year.

As the Wulatehou Banner Government granted him 20,000 yuan for a settlement and another 30,000 per person as a life subsidy, he can now live in a 72-sq-m house with a yard to grow vegetables.

Also, the subsidy for his five-member family was more than enough for him to pay 19,000 yuan for his house.

In addition, his wife also receives nearly 600 yuan per month as a pension, which all men over 60 and women over 50 of the banner, or county, are entitled to.

Bayantala Gacha was built in 2006 as a new village for the purpose of ecological migration. More than 100 households from three former gachas behind the mountain have moved there, said Xu Fuhu, secretary of the gacha committee of the Communist Party of China.

HOME IS BEST

Hagenna is among the 450,000 people who were transferred over the past ten years in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, and 100,000 of them were herders, said Ji Dacai, deputy chief of the region's bureau of agriculture and animal husbandry.

The government had spent more than 2 billion yuan to help these people in their becoming settled and learning a new livelihood, including housing subsidies, pensions to seniors, free training for the young, free education for children, and other assistance, she said.

The payments for the herders' settlement would be further increased, Liu Xinle, deputy governor of Inner Mongolia said, during a news conference in Beijing in early July.

Although the new village seems attractive, Hagenna still keeps his hometown-Qiandamen Gacha-in mind.

Half of his family from the gacha still live there, either waiting or refusing to move.

"They often visit us. Some of them envy our new life and are eager to move here, but some still insist on staying," said Hagenna.

"For better or for worse, it's our hometown after all," he said.

Xu said the government would further arrange the migration, gradually, but would not force unwilling residents to move.

"If the ecology improves, I still want to move back where I was born, but I won't put any pressure on my children to be like me," Hagenna said.

Hagennan has two sons and both of them are working in town.

"Being a herdsmen is dull. They don't like it," he said.

His younger son trained to repair appliances, in a program organized by the local government.

Xu said the village and county governments often organized job trainings to help the young find jobs, and the salaries of drivers, cooks and repairmen were much higher than herdsmen or farmers.

Source: Xinhua

(Editor:王千原雪)

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