Man plants trees to rise from ashes of poverty

Updated: 2011-10-22 09:26

By Chen Longxiang (China Daily)

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DONGXIANG, Gansu - When asked how much money he had spent on building a new house, Ma Yongxiang answered, "180,000 yuan ($28,000)".

He gave his proud reply while sitting in the living room of his newly built house, which has nine rooms and two yards.

Ma is middle-aged and lives in Dongxiang, in the remote mountains of Northwest China's Gansu province. He has worked to get rid of his poverty by planting prickly ash, which produce the popular ingredient Sichuan peppers. With the assistance of local authorities, he has helped nearly 10,000 of the plants to take root in nearby mountain slopes.

Ma used to be poorly compensated for the odd jobs he would do for others. He also found employment in the sheepskin and wool businesses in Qinghai and Gansu provinces.

"In 1996, I began to plant prickly ash in the barren mountains, using seedlings that the Hetan township government provides for free", Ma said.

When harvest time comes, Ma hires more than 30 villagers to help him pick prickly ash, which takes about 40 days. For that work, he pays them more than 20,000 yuan.

Since picking prickly ash is laborious and takes a lot of time, the cost of labor has been on the rise in recent years, he said.

Last year, the net income of Ma's family reached 30,000 yuan. He said he is quite satisfied with his life.

"I have a son and two daughters," he said. "My son, after being graduated from college, was employed by a local government department and both my daughters are teachers in primary schools.

"I am proud of being a Dongxiang resident with a daring spirit and a sense of optimism that has been forged fighting against nature's harshness.

"As long as you are willing to endure hardships, you can change your life no matter how hard the environment is."

The average annual income of farmers in Dongxiang county last year was 1,602 yuan.

The county government has played an important role in helping farmers shake off poverty. Many towns there have used lamb breeding, and potato and prickly ash planting toward that end. They have also exported labor.

"Farmers are being encouraged to grow prickly ash and other plants in mountain slopes, which not only helps to increase the local people's incomes but can also help prevent soil erosion," said Ma Hengguang, deputy county head of Dongxiang.

"I was one of the beneficiaries of the government's support policies," Ma Yongxiang said.

Seeing the changes that have occurred in Ma's life, more and more farmers in Hetan town have begun to plant prickly ash.

Until now, 2 million pieces of prickly ash have been planted in Hetan town, and the value of its annual output has reached 13 million yuan. In Qiyang village, 12 households have annual incomes that exceed 10,000 yuan.