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From newsdesk@igc.apc.org Sun Mar 12 12:28:17 2000
Date: Sat, 11 Mar 2000 23:23:16 -0600 (CST)
From: IGC News Desk <newsdesk@igc.apc.org>
Subject: DEVELOPMENT-CHINA: Women Harvest Fruits of Their Labour
Article: 90966
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

Women Harvest Fruits of Their Labour

By Xiong Lei, IPS, 22 February 2000

CANGXIAN, HEBEI, China, Feb 22 (IPS) - It has thousands and thousands of hectares of farmland, but as late as a decade ago, Cangxian County in the northern Chinese province of Hebei had few crops to boast about.

With much of 90,000 hectares of farmland alkalised, Cangxian's soil was considered inhospitable to most plants that would have given the county's people a good income.

But then came the March 8 Green Project, a part of a nationwide environmental campaign launched by the All-China Women's Federation in 1990.

Largely because of it, Cangxian today not only has orchards of jujube, it also makes sure that when new programmes for the county's economic development are up for discussion, representatives of the local women's federation are present.

After all, Cangxian's women farmers were the ones who took the lead in planting land to jujube, a variety of date fruit that just happened to grow well on the county's plant-picky soil. These days, the women have even begun inter-cropping jujube trees with corn, wheat and other plants, making the land more productive.

Environmental conditions have also improved, say the women. Before, says Cao Guangying, the soil was too bad even for alkali-resistant sorghum and weeds. (But) look, we now have jujube trees in and around villages. As the land turns green, there are less sandstorms and more birds.

Similar changes have been taking place all over China because of women-spearheaded green projects. In Shangluo prefecture in the northwest province of Shaanxi, for example, the local women's federations have organised women to cover 160,000 hectares with chestnut, tung and orange trees. The women at Bapan village there have also increased local forest cover to 80 percent.

To be sure, before the Green Project programme reached Cangxian in 1992, some local women had already figured out that the Golden Fibre Jujube, which has high sugar and vitamin content, took well to the local land. But they could not expand production because of the lack of funds and know-how.

To make matters worse, the local women's federation was kept out of the county's economic decision-making, despite the fact that women made up half of the local population of 640,000 and their being responsible for 70 percent of Cangxian's agricultural production.

An average tree yielded no more than 20 kilos of jujube fruits a year, says Liu Xiufeng, a mother of three who has grown jujube trees since 1989. At the time, the local farmer's average annual income was barely 500 yuan (about 62 U.S. dollars).

When the Green Project finally began in Cangxian, the county's women federation started to be asked to join discussions in local economic development. The women also gained access to training and sources of funds.

To date, some 140,000 women between the ages of 16 and 45 years have been involved in the project and the land planted to jujube has expanded from 13,000 to 33,000 hectares.

The annual income of local families now averages 2,700 yuan (337 dollars) per capita, with a fourth of that coming from sales of jujube fruits. Liu also reports happily, A tree in my orchard now yields 50 kilos.

Lu Jingfang, chair of the Cangxian Women's Federation, says they solved the primary problem of funding by raising money from various sources. These included the provincial federation in Sijiazhuang, the All-China Women's Federation, the forestry ministry in Beijing and the villages themselves.

By the time the Federation's staff finished their rounds, they had 24.8 million yuan (nearly three million dollars), including 8.7 million yuan in loans from the local government.

With the money, the Federation helped women farmers develop and expand their jujube orchards, transform and upgrade tree strains, launch regular technical lectures of the county's TV network and set up 21 women farmer technicians' associations. Four projects were started for demonstration, including a 6.7 hectare nursery and two orchards that cover 670 hectares each.

Liu herself was helped by the county women's federation in acquiring more knowledge and has since passed the qualification examination to get a certificate proclaiming her a junior agricultural technician.

In return, she has been providing technical advice to other women on topics such as grafting, pest and disease control and fertiliser application.

Liu has also developed some practical techniques in jujube planting. She has found out, for example, that covering the ground surrounding a jujube tree with straw throughout the winter can conserve soil moisture. This method is especially important here in Cangxian, which is part of the chronically arid north.

In addition, Liu advises other jujube farmers to scrap the bark in early spring. It's simple but very effective in pest prevention, she says, and definitely environmentally friendly.

The women farmers have surprised many by their enthusiasm and wisdom. Jia Jinqi, head of the Da'ezhuang village, recalls how he was worried when the project began.

As most of the men had left for cities to make money, women became the main labour force at home, he says. Yet few of them had ever done such physically challenging work as land levelling. I thought to myself that the work wouldn't be finished in 50 days.

But the women completed the levelling of 333 hectares of land and the planting of 25,000 jujube trees in 20 days. Exclaims Jia: Remarkable indeed!

The women's self-confidence has grown along with the jujube trees. More and more women are also taking part in county decisions. Across Cangxian, 70 percent of the 517 villages have women representatives in the decision-making body, with 15 women even elected as village heads.

Meanwhile, Lu says the jujube programme has entered its second phase, which entails raising the output and improving the quality of the fruit, as well as developing a system that streamlines production, processing and marketing.

Again, we have the problem of funding, she says, and we have very limited access to international finance resources such as the World Bank and the Ford Foundation. For support of whatever kind, we are eager to establish contacts with international organisations, governmental or non-governmental.