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China: Empowering Farmers through a Participatory Approach

September 24, 2012

Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region is one of China’s most beautiful and remote regions. But that remoteness costs. The government estimates that about 85 million rural Chinese live in poverty.

World Bank Group


The Poor Rural Communities Development Project (2005-2011) was implemented in the three provinces of Sichuan, Yunnan and Guangxi in China.  The project helped to explore, develop and promote a number of approaches to poverty reduction in rural China, and invested in a variety of civil works and other activities to improve farmers’ livelihoods security and access to basic services.

It was a complex multisectoral project including assistance for agricultural production, rural infrastructure, basic education and health, and community capacity building. It was also a highly innovative project which spearheaded the development of a robust participatory approach, and the project’s outreach to the poorest and most disadvantaged ethnic minority people in western China was extraordinary.

About 501,690 households in 18 nationally designed poor counties benefitted from provision of basic rural infrastructure, including village roads and paths, water supply, water conservancy works, rural electrification, rural energy and sanitation. Ethnic minority peoples comprised two thirds of the project’s primary beneficiaries.  Per capita incomes of the farmers in the project areas increased considerably, and the incidence of poverty in project villages registered a strong decline.


Notwithstanding China’s tremendous economic success, about 208 million Chinese still lived below the international poverty line of US$1.25 per day of consumption in 2005, according the Bank’s estimates.

Almost all of China’s poor resided in rural areas, and these poor were heavily concentrated in natural resource deficient mountainous areas of the central and western provinces where single sector poverty reduction measures have had limited sustainable impact.

Certain ethnic minority groups, people with disabilities, and women were the most disadvantaged and vulnerable groups.

Overcoming the remaining rural poverty required innovative approaches and continued strong support.


Development work around the world has found that giving stakeholders a voice in project design, management, and evaluation improves results. The Government of China recognized the importance of strengthening the participatory approach in poverty reduction work. 

The project helped to explore and promote a number of approaches to poverty reduction in the three project provinces including the participatory approach, strengthened outreach to the poorest villages and most disadvantaged ethnic minority people, gender equality, and assistance for people with disabilities.

" We discussed what to do first, we elected our own representatives and then we voted on priorities. In our area, we voted roads first and drinking water next. "

Su Qiu’e

a member of the drinking water management committee of Pannei Village, Longsheng County, Guangxi


  • The project rolled out the participatory approach on an unprecedented scale, involving a large number of remote natural villages in participatory planning and decision making. For example, in Guangxi, 88 percent of the project’s villages were directly involved in project decision making, and 399 project implementation groups were set up.
  • Project communities substantially participated in decision making at critical stages as well as in the monitoring and final evaluation of project activities. Levels of participation were particularly high in small-scale infrastructure activities, such as drinking water schemes, implemented through a community-led approach.
  • Women participated in selecting priority project activities, discussing implementation plans, and formulating subsequent management and maintenance systems. Their expressed preferences, including schools, village clinics, and drinking water, were effectively addressed.
  • The participatory approach supported high levels of transparency and ownership at the community level. As a result, the project communities felt more responsible for the management and maintenance of project facilities.
  • The project set an example for decision makers that substantial levels of participation can be achieved on a large scale in government-led projects if sufficient attention is paid to ongoing capacity building and learning.
  • The project has developed a number of innovative practices that are seen as useful for strengthening community engagement and pro-poor focus in poverty reduction projects, such as participatory poverty analysis, community procurement, and setting up project implementation groups in remote natural villages. As a result, the project has become an influential platform for innovative participation practices in China.
  • Project farmers’ per capita incomes increased by 12 percent per year, which is greater than that of non-project villages (9 percent) and the national average for rural areas (9.2percent).
  • The incidence of poverty in project villages declined significantly. In Yunnan, it declined from about 23 percent to 9 percent. Sichuan and Guangxi also recorded big declines.
  • Investment in rural infrastructure improved farmer’s living conditions and livelihood opportunities:  some 202,066 households benefited from village access roads, and 120,154 households benefited from improved drinking water. Small irrigation systems secured water supply for agriculture, enabling farmers to increase yields, grow cash crops and generate greater incomes. Biogas digesters and fuel efficient stoves saved farmers’ time for fuel wood collection and provided cleaner energy, while supply of electricity provided opportunity for small scale processing activities.
  • The basic health component of the project strengthened the capacity of the basic health care system in the project areas and provided a variety of public health services for farmers. In Sichuan, for example, the project provided maternal and child health care services to 21,150 women and 22,578 children, modern deliveries for 21,085 infants, and 505,485 person/times of medical assistance.
  • In the Free Education Pilot, the enrollment and completion rates in the pilot villages and townships increased quite significantly, particularly for girls and ethnic minorities.
  • More than 3,000 people with disabilities in 137 villages in Sichuan’s Yuexi County received some kind of service or support. They gradually gained services and became more involved in socio-economic activities, while learning about laws and regulations and becoming more aware of their rights.

Bank Contribution

The Bank provided an IBRD loan of US$99.71 million, combined with its extensive knowledge and experience drawn from its poverty reduction work in China and globally.


The United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) provided generous grant assistance to the overall project, and separate additional DFID grants provided vital assistance for the development of the project’s participatory approach, the monitoring and evaluation system, the Free Education Pilot, and the People with Disabilities Activity in Yuexi County in Sichuan. DFID’s grant support for the project totaled about US$37 million.

Moving Forward

The three project provinces have expanded the participatory and other approaches province-wide.  These approaches are also being adopted in poverty reduction projects in other provinces.

The Sustainable Development in Poor Rural Areas Project (2010-2015), which is supported by the Bank and currently being implemented in 25 counties and about 800 villages in Shaanxi and Henan provinces and Chongqing Municipality, is advancing these approaches and community driven development (CDD). 


“We discussed what to do first, we elected our own representatives and then we voted on priorities. In our area, we voted roads first and drinking water next.”

-- Ms. Su Qiu’e, a member of the drinking water management committee of Pannei Village, Longsheng County, Guangxi 

“Really the biggest impact of this project is that we listened to the farmers in the selection of project activities, and adopted a participatory approach from project planning to implementation.”

-- Huang Canbin, Deputy Director, Provincial Government Poverty Alleviation Office, Guangxi

 “Since the 1990s, we have actively promoted a participatory approach to poverty reduction. By adopting a participatory approach at the village level, we enable the poor people to participate in the decision making on poverty reduction activities and use of funds, and strengthen their abilities to develop by themselves. “

-- Fan Xiaojian, Director, State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation