Meet the Township of Weicheng
Being located at high altitude in remote rural Sichuan Province has its challenges. For the Qiang minority group, it was issue of limited cash income. For centuries, families have passed along their family farming land to the next generation – land previously reasonable enough in size to sustain them with food. Villages would work together as close communities, each dividing up their produce to survive – some growing corn, others potatoes, or other produce. However, come forward to the current generation and the challenge becomes one of how to survive in a “cash” economy. Subsistence farming based on a barter system falls short.
Unless a family or village has capacity to produce more than just their sustainable needs, there is no cash left for important things such as education for their children or medical support. A villager therefore seems to have only two options: (1) grow more produce so they can sell some at the market; or (2) leave the village to work in the city. Most choose option 2 as the financial returns on producing more in the village seems impossible (not enough land and high altitude limits ability to produce higher income crops). Of course, option 2 brings with it the challenges of children being left behind in the village to fend for themselves or be cared for by aging grandparents. So, what to do?
Welcome to the Captivating Walnut Program – a long-term program building increased and sustainable income capacity for entire villages.
It’s claimed that world poverty can be eradicated in our lifetime. Some believe this can even be achieved by 2025. For an impoverished minority group in the Chinese province of Sichuan, this dream is now becoming a reality. The solution: Walnuts.
- Walnuts can tolerate a reasonable degree of altitude;
- They provide an incredible return on investment if cared for correctly;
- A walnut tree will produce for 50 years or more;
- Everyone eats them – they have high consumable demand.
So, why isn’t everyone doing it:
- Walnuts need capital investment to get started;
- It can take up to 8 years before there is the first reasonable return to the farmer;
- Precious land is wasted as they wait for the trees to mature (meaning less food produced);
- Villagers loose most of the profits due to greedy middlemen.
Captivating’s Walnut Program gets villagers started with investment capital, expert advice, and quality saplings specifically grafted to decrease the number of years it takes for first yields. A expert will then guide the villagers through training, care and tree maintenance programs. With larger walnut volumes at a village level, Captivating also helps the village consider ways of eliminating the middleman and going direct to market.
Meet the Township of Weicheng
The Qiang people are one of China’s oldest minority groups. Their history dates back over 3,000 years with some claiming their ancestry can be traced back to Abraham. With a total population of only 300,000, this group like no other has clung to their traditions, practices and language. However, it was only a few years ago that reports stated over 40% of Qiang people lived below the poverty line in remote mountainous regions. Tragically, 30,000 Qiang people lost their lives during the earthquake of May 2008 (10% of their total population). The government initiated an incredibly large scale rebuilding program for homes and infrastructure but, the challenges of how to improve their cash incomes remained unchanged.
Weicheng is a ‘township’ made up of 5 villages. Our pilot program, started March 2009, planted trees (saplings) over the entire face of the mountain this village calls home. Every household (110 families) received enough trees to easily take them above the poverty line within 5 years. This not only brought hope to over 500 people in the village, it built in a sure future for their 200 children. Environmentally, the benefits were also fantastic.
As of today, this village is progressing much better. But, it was not all success. Lessons were learned from this pilot program. Many walnut saplings were planted too high (above 2,200 meters) because it was felt they had a good chance of survival. We pushed it too hard. Not helping was a particularly severe winter after the initial planting which resulted in many saplings perishing. What we have since learned, however, is that village communities work as large families. As village incomes as a whole increase year after year those at lower altitude are now in a position to be able to help and support families at the higher altitude.
No projects require funding support at this time
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