As far as the eye can see, there is nothing but rocks and dry grassland. The wind blows unimpeded through the bleak, mountainous region where only a few scattered trees are growing. “Life is hard here”, says Xu Cuihua. The smallholder women farmer is living in 'Urad Banner', an autonomous region of Inner Mongolia in the far north of China where mostly ethnic minorities live – it is far away from the big cities of the East Coast where modern life pulses and the economy is booming. In Urad Banner there is a lot of poverty. The median annual income of farmers and herdsmen is below 200 Euro a person.
There are different reasons for regional poverty: Overgrazing and deforestation have caused erosion of the soil and desertification on a large scale. The poor access to water limits the land utilization for farming and grazing. Additionally, during rare but heavy rains there is continuously flooding, which mixes the saline groundwater with the water on the surface. As a result, the salt remains on the top when the water evaporates and the soil becomes infertile.
Because they do not see any perspective for their future, more and more young people are leaving their villages and search for work somewhere else. The old, women and children are left behind. Farmers as Xu Cuihua and her friend Wang Yanye are on their own and have to work to wrest even a little bit from the soil. “Our men are in the cities and the farming work is left to us”, they explain disillusioned.
Improving the livelihood in rural areas
With support of Bread for the World, the Christian Chinese non-governmental organization Amity Foundation has established various cooperatives in Wulate county during the last years and provides training for the farmers. Many measures have helped to sustainably improve the living conditions of the people. Water saving irrigation techniques and the use of organic fertilizers that lead to enhancement of soil fertility have been introduced and greenhouses for vegetables cultivation were built.
Furthermore, through the construction of sheepfolds the overgrazing has been stopped and by planting trees the erosion of the soil has been contained. The farmer Qiao is pleased: “Since we have a cooperative for organic farming we earn more every year. Now more young people stay here and our village has a chance.”
Uran Banner is a region of Inner Mongolia that is characterized by a markedly bleak landscape. Women farmers as Xu Cuihua and Wang Yanye are struggling to wrest a living from the soil.
Close cooperation with local authorities
For the Amity Foundation it is very important, that during the implementation of projects all societal actors are closely cooperating with each other. Only in this way it can be ensured that the undertakings will meet the needs of the people and the impact is sustainable. Therefore, the Amity Foundation set up local project offices in Wulate County and other disadvantaged regions, where representatives of the farmers' cooperatives and officials of local authorities are cooperating closely. “With the cooperation of Amity we experience a completely new style of working”, tells Yuying Zhang, a state coworker of the local Wulate project office. “We have learned that we achieve better successes when we integrate the local population from planing to implementation of projects. In our team, the local working atmosphere has improved, too. Everyone is engaged and is actively participating in the project,” she tells happily.
With the help of the Amity Foundation the living conditions of Xu Cuihua and Wang Yanye have obviously improved. The women have a perspective for their future again.
Supporting small grassroots non-governmental organizations
The development of rural regions is only one of many working areas of the Foundation. Disaster relief, the strengthening of churches' diaconal work, as well as environment protection, public health and education are of major importance. The work within the cities becomes more and more important because many migrant workers are still pushing into the cities, which causes problems and social tensions. Another emphasis is the strengthening of small-scale non-governmental organizations (NGO's). The Chinese government is supporting experienced NGOs as the Amity Foundation to pass on their knowledge and foster small organizations. Official figures show that there are more than 600,000 registered NGOs in China. But only a few of them are capable to conduct activities themselves. That is why the Amity Foundation has set up development centers for non-governmental organizations in several cities and has already assisted hundredths of organizations with their establishment and professionalization.
- This article was first published in German by Bread for the World (https://info.brot-fuer-die-welt.de/sites/default/files/blog-downloads/imfokus_schwellenlander_low.pdf), Amity's partner organisation, which is funding the project -