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Selfless villager sees the wood from the trees

China Daily | Updated: 2023-05-16 08:19
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GUIYANG — At dawn every morning, after breakfast, Xiao Tikui sets off to patrol a forest of more than 1,333 hectares, covering the rolling mountains of Southwest China's Guizhou province.

"Increasing vegetation coverage has brought tremendous changes to nearby villages," says the forest ranger, 68, who hails from Guizhou's Xiaxi village.

"In the past, floods would roll down the bare mountains carrying sand and mud when it rained heavily, washing away the farmlands at the foot of the mountains and resulting in serious soil erosion," Xiao says.

In 1984, China introduced a policy allowing farmers to contract out the long-term management of barren hills and beaches. In the same year, when Xiao was 29, he contracted about 100 hectares of barren mountain land in the village and began to plant trees.

"I just wanted to do something for my hometown and save the farmland from being destroyed," he says.

The first milestone came in 1994, by which time Xiao had spent 10 years planting trees across the once barren hills.

"I was more than proud seeing the trees," he says. "However, I knew it was difficult to make a forest by myself. Only by mobilizing other villagers can more of the wasteland on the mountains be dressed in green."

To gather more people to his afforestation cause, Xiao went door-to-door, persuading more residents to join the campaign. It wasn't long before trees gradually covered the mountain slopes.

As saplings grew taller and thicker, Xiao became a volunteer forest ranger. He built a shed approximately 5 kilometers from his home, living there from September to May each year, during the hay season.

In 1999, Xiao was hired by the local government as a forest ranger, responsible for protecting the mountain forests that he and other villagers had planted.

To increase efficiency in his work, in 2013, Xiao and his wife went to live in the mountains full-time, walking more than 20 km every day during his forest patrols.

He says that making a life in the mountains is easier and more convenient than it used to be, as the local power department has set up a special electricity line for the couple.

At about 6 pm every day, Xiao returns home from his patrol and sits on the bench in front of his house. Rolling up his trouser legs, several scars are clearly visible. During his 39 years of afforestation work and his efforts to protect the mountains, Xiao suffered six fractures.

"I've worn out hundreds of pairs of shoes from walking in the mountains over the years," he says. "I have to buy at least two or three pairs of shoes at a time, and the shoe sellers are always happy when they see me."

Xiao says that his children currently work in big cities, and when he retires, he would like to ask them to return to the village and continue his work.

Looking at the tree-lined hills in the distance and recalling the past, Xiao says he feels all sorts of emotions in his heart.

"Floods pulling down mud during heavy rains have not been seen for more than 20 years."

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