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Around China: Farmer turns hillsides into terraces to fight poverty

(Xinhua)

10:22, June 24, 2012

BEIJING, June 22 (Xinhua) -- Wa Guangji is the Communist Party chief of Yangwa village in northwest China's Gansu province and a local well-known singer of Hua'er, a folk song popular in the country's northwest.

However, to villagers of Yangwa, Wa is respected most for his role in leading the village's fight against poverty -- by converting slopes in the mountainous area into terraces for farming.

The village is under the jurisdiction of Lintao county, Dingxi city. Dingxi, along with Hexi also in Gansu and Xihaigu in neighboring Ningxia Hui autonomous region, is among China's driest and least developed regions.

The three places are known together in Chinese as Sanxi -- "san" meaning "three" and "xi" for "west," the character that their names share.

Three decades ago, there were few trees in Yangwa and crops there were "as short as horsehairs" because of a shortage of water. Thus local people coined the phrase "horsehair crops."

Despite the need for water, rainwater was wasted as it drained quickly from farmland on the hillsides. And soil and fertilizer were washed away when it rained.

Wa decided to turn the hillsides into terraces as soon as he became the Communist Party of China (CPC) chief of the village in 1976.

With shovels, hoes and handcarts, Wa and villagers started the mission to change their destiny.

Much of the terrace building was done during winter, when labor was not in high demand for farming. The poor farmers, wearing not enough to keep themselves warm and living on maize, carried kerosene lamps so that they could build the terraces during the night.

The harsh winter left them with yawning foot frost cracks, which they just stitched up themselves and carried on working.

After decades of continuous efforts, Yangwa boasted the most terraces in Lintao in 1990. Water and soil have been better preserved by the terraces since then, which is a milestone in the village's fight against poverty.

Besides the terrace project, Wa also led villagers in building roads, raising pigs and chickens, and planting herbs.

In his mind, the land is more precious than anything else. He tells his son, "Do you know how many people lived on the land? And more people will continue living on it."

He believes leaving the home and working elsewhere is shameful, although millions of farmers are doing so. Instead, he insists it is the real glory to make the village rich and attract others to work here.

"There is always potential in this land," Wa said.

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