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Belgians harvest the good life in Guizhou

China Daily | Updated: 2024-07-02 07:50
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GUIYANG — Nestled in the heart of the mountains in Xiasi village, Dushan county, Southwest China's Guizhou province, there is a unique ecological family farm. It is run by Kevin Cillen Michael E., a 28-year-old Belgian who is passionate about the land.

With his parents and siblings, they have combined Western farming techniques with local countryside practices to cultivate an "ecological oasis" in the remote area.

Surrounded by verdant hills and melodious birdsongs, the family is dedicated to the land, pursuing their farming dream in China. Their journey began in 2000, when his mother Hetty Cillen Bottheft visited China as a volunteer for the first time. The enchanting landscapes and rich cultural tapestry of Guizhou captivated her, compelling her to make this foreign country her home. Soon after, his father Patrick Jan Cillen joined her in Guizhou.

In 2017, the family relocated to Xiasi town to lease a plot amid the forest and establish an ecological farm where they laid the foundation, leveling the terrain, sowing pastures and acquiring lambs and chicks for rearing.

Determined to enrich the forage for their animals, they ventured into cultivating rapeseed flowers, a new endeavor, and sought advice from the warmhearted villagers, who generously shared their knowledge.

The locals have openly embraced the foreigners, integrating them into their community, inviting them to festivities and celebrating traditional Chinese holidays together.

In 2018, Yang Chengkai, a 34-year-old villager of Xiasi village, befriended the family, often assisting them on the farm.

"We frequently make our way up the hill to lend a hand at their farm when they're mowing the lawn," Yang says. "The community has embraced this family. Even the vendors at the local food market contribute by giving them vegetable scraps for free to feed their livestock."

During this year's May Day holiday, Yang collaborated with the family to produce a short video showcasing the local folk culture, which was well-received and helped attract more attention to Guizhou, a province that has transformed from a once poverty-plagued region into a national pilot area for ecological civilization in China. Through innovative environmental measures, the province has significantly improved its forest coverage and reduced the area of rocky desertification by 43 percent over the past decade.

The family farm, hidden deep within the dense forest, is a testament to Guizhou's ecological progress. The farm practices diversified grass cultivation for high-quality animal feed, utilizes solar panels for clean energy and employs automatic rainwater harvesting systems for a stable water supply. They treat animal diseases with Chinese herbal medicine and the free-range animals in the forest contribute to soil fertility, enabling ecological recycling.

Over the years, the farm has grown in size and diversity, housing hundreds of livestock including goats, chickens, rabbits and ducks.

Living in China, the 28-year-old Belgian has witnessed the country's remarkable changes. "The village has taken on a new look and more and more people have begun to return to the countryside to enjoy the quiet pastoral life," he says, adding that as a "new farmer", he has also seized the opportunities of the internet and new media to increase the farm's visibility.

In addition to managing the farm, he has partnered with Qiu Ye, a social media influencer in Guizhou, to set up accounts like "Kevin's family in Guizhou" on various platforms. By sharing their daily lives on the farm and the natural beauty of rural China, their authentic and "grounded" content has quickly garnered a large following of over 700,000 subscribers.

"We are humbled by the interest in our story," the young Belgian says." We are delighted to share our life in China with others, hoping our experiences will help more people understand China and its agricultural development."


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