Farmers who want to find work off the farm usually migrate to the cities to
provide unskilled labor to businesses there, working for anything from large
industries to small retail shops.
An interesting exception, however, is in Shaxian, a county of about 240,000
people in East China's Fujian Province. Farmers there have built an extensive
network to run a group of snack bars in different cities.
According to Huang Fusong, a top county official, there are 240 kinds of
Shaxian snacks, 39 of which he said were national delicacies.
Although it's hard to see any trace of them in Beijing or any cities in North
China, Shaxian snacks enjoy a high reputation in Fujian Province and have won
top prizes in national food and catering shows.
Nearly half of the county's rural labor force, up to 50,000 people, manage
and staff about 13,000 outlets, which all share the Shaxian Snack Bar brand.
Neighboring Guangdong Province has about 6,000 of them and Shanghai about
2,000 two of the most preferred destinations for the locals when they travel.
With existing networks and its market reputation, Shaxian will be able to
provide jobs to all its surplus farm workers before the end of 2010 by opening
up 3,000 additional outlets, according to the county government's plan.
The snack bar operators first began to leave their hometowns when a local
pyramid loan scheme collapsed in the early 1990s, said Zhang Yunshou,
vice-chairman of the Shaxian Snack Trade Association (SSTA), which was set up in
Soon afterward, the county government began playing a role in promoting the
snack bars as a business pillar for the local economy. Shaxian Snacks became a
trademark the next year, granting the snack bars a share of the intellectual
The government also allocated funds for promotion and training. Since 1999,
the local Snack Industry Development and Service Center has trained 12,000 snack
chefs, and 80 percent of them report more than 50,000 yuan ($6,400) in annual
The SSTA also was required to compile standards for the local snack industry
and its operations in other places.
If Shaxian can continue to grow, Chinese economists say, it may serve as a
role model for more rural communities in pursuing their "new countryside"
programs. But to do so, it will have to overcome obstacles that it has recently
Consolidating 13,000 small retail shops into an integrated business, even
when they agree to use the same shop name, takes time and effort. So far, fewer
than 10 percent of them have been fully licensed by the SSTA.
Some outlets are plagued by poor training, or poor internal financial
control. For example, the owners of many small outlets are not showing much
competitive edge; they tend to use much of their profit to build new houses for
themselves and spend little on reinvestment.
(China Daily 01/12/2007 page4)