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China Exclusive: China in uphill battle against poverty

(Xinhua)

08:28, June 21, 2012

QINGLONG COUNTY, Guizhou, June 20 (Xinhua) -- Standing on a hillside between mountains in southwest China's Guizhou province, Cai Fei slashed his whip through the air to keep her sheep from straying.

Cai became a shepherd just three years ago when many of her villagers in the rugged mountainous areas of Qinglong county decided to turn their barren and fragmented cornfields into pastures as part of the local authorities' poverty alleviation efforts.

"I feel much more relaxed now than in the past," Cai said. "We used to plant maize but could only fill our stomach without hardly saving a cent."

Raising sheep not only frees her family from laborious cornfield work, but also brings in between 30,000 yuan (4,762 U.S. dollars) and 40,000 yuan a year to the four-member family.

Such a household income is high enough to lift Cai's family out of poverty, but the number of people living below the country's poverty line still poses challenges for the world's second-biggest economy.

In November last year, China raised its official poverty line by 92 percent to 2,300 yuan in per capital annual income in rural areas -- meaning more people now qualify as "poor" despite the country's booming economy.

The sharp upward revision defined a number equivalent to the population of Japan as poor in China, creating pressure for local authorities to build the world's most populous nation into a relatively prosperous one around 2020.

Across China, 592 counties, including Qinglong, are categorized as poverty-stricken counties and 50 of such counties are located in Guizhou, where 11.5 million people, or one-third of the province's population live under the poverty line.

Zheng Wenkai, deputy head of the State Council Poverty Alleviation Leading Group Office, said the nation had increased funding for poverty alleviation projects nationwide after the announcement of the new poverty line.

Since the beginning of this year, the central government has increased its investment in poverty alleviation efforts to more than 33 billion yuan after spending 204.38 billion yuan on poverty alleviation programs from 2001 to 2011, according to data from the office.

"We need to invest much more in poverty alleviation projects as the number of impoverished people has greatly expanded after the revision of the poverty line," Zheng said.

Earlier last month, Premier Wen Jiabao said during an inspection tour of Hunan province that more efforts were needed to promote infrastructure construction, push forward the development of the tourism industry, and improve the quality of education and public health-care services in poverty-stricken areas.

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