Jan Schakel in China – part two

The IMRD-students, who are visiting China to do their case study, just finished their fieldwork in the Bamudi-village in the Yanqing County, North of Beijing. After three weeks of lectures, fieldtrips and surveys, they now will write the final report in the last week of their stay in China. The report will cover the findings from interviews, visits and meeting with farmers, village leaders, shop keepers and other households in the Bamudi-village (Beijing) and Quaoli village (Nanjing).

Part of the methodology of the PRA (Participatory Rapid Appraisal) is to provide a ‘Community Development Program’ and to present and discuss this plan with local inhabitants in the Village Hall to have feedback from the farmers and others involved. It will be a thrilling event, because the situation is rather complex; also in this area, not too far from Beijing.

Industrialization in China started before urbanization (heavy industry in the sixties in the middle and Northeast of China), but in recent decades urbanization is really skyrocketing: from 10% in 1949 and still only 18% in 1979 to almost up to 50% in 2007! Actually, just some month ago, there were –for the first time in their long history- more people living in the cities then in the rural areas! Although the number of ‘the poor’ (which was for a long time synonymous with ‘the rural’) decreased from 250 million in 1978 to less then 15 million in 2007, the rural area still faces tremendous problems. The unique rural-urban migration in China (young labour left to the cities) resulted in disorganization of rural communities and the erosion or even loss of cultural identity, values and the ability of collective action, as well as issues of elites that are leaving, while vulnerable groups are ‘left-behind’.

Box 1: ‘Poor, so rural….’

One of the farmers we visited (see picture) lives in a remote area, just outside Bamudi-village. The farmer is suffering high blood pressure for many years, and his wife (both in their sixties) is illiterate. They own their house (built in 1962) and rent 3,5 mu of land (0,2 ha.), growing mostly corn, fruit and some vegetables. Last year they earned 2000 Yan (200 Euro) by selling apricot to the market, but this year there is hardly any harvest at all, due to the chilly spring. Opposite to other rural families, they don’t have remittances from family members who work in the city (migrant workers), so the family income is only 5000-6000 Yan (or RMB) a year (around 550 Euro), which is really low, even to Chinese standards. As part of  the new pro-farming-policies, the household will have some extra income, like social security and minimum living standard subsidies, compensation for environmental protection schemes, alleviation of agri-tax and subsidies for certain products (mainly grain). The liveability of the community and the households will also be improved by measures of the New Countryside Construction Program; see box 2).

Village farmer

The situation in Bamudi-village is really complex, because a new phenomena – besides the traditional rural-urban-migration processes- is occurring in the region: the urban-rural-migration, which expresses the rediscovery of the rural area by the urban, and a new relation between the city and the countryside. During all the interviews in the village, it became clear that neither the central, nor the provincial government, and neither the county or the village leaders knew how to handle this new phenomena. There are no rules, nor policies and regulations, and the traditional land tenure system doesn’t fit to tackle this new migration process. One of the conclusions, drawn by the students after doing their surveys, is that there is hardly any future in this part of China, if they follow the traditional route or path of development. The growing conditions in this mountainous area very bad, and together with the lack of skilled labour and motivated young people, it rural life is very hard and it will imply the end of agriculture around the municipality of Beijing. Only mostly elderly people will stay in the village, while the rest of the family moves out to the cities. But due to polices (among others) from the NCCP (see box 2), like reafforistication and environmental protection, there might be new sources of income be created. That Bamudi village will be Beijing’s  ‘back garden’ in the near future, implies definitely the final end of a long agricultural tradition, but it will also give the area the opportunity to (re-)develop again in a more modern and more successful way.

We are looking forward to listen and learn what the local villagers will think about the analyses the students have made and the findings that will be presented and discussed tonight; we’re all looking forward to their comments and opinions. And hope that indeed it will be a thrilling night!

Box 2: New Countryside Construction Program (NCCP)

In 2006 the Chinese government launched a new plan to restore the balance and the inequity between the rural and the urban. Part of it will be the NCCP. Background of the NCCP is the rapid industrialization and urbanization, which widened the gap between urban and rural, and forced the state to support farmers and pay more attention to resource and environmental protection. Part of it will be an urbanization strategy: no allowing for most farmers to go to towns, but stay in the villages. To improve the living conditions in these villages, several measures were undertaken, like: promoting agriculture production, e.g. agricultural industrialization infrastructural development like roads, drinking water, street lights employing farmers tot protect non-governmental forests, waters, roads and environment providing public goods: medical, rural education, energy, communication and so on increasing farmers income by subsidies, human resource development, providing help to the poor (among others).

Jan Schakel, Bamudi-Village