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FEATURE STORY May 23, 2019

In China, Yi Farmers Increase Profits by Coming Together

World Bank Group


STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • A World Bank-supported project has supported the development of cooperatives among poor Yi farmers in Liangshan in China’s Sichuan Province
  • Organizing small-scale farmers into co-ops can help them achieve economies of scale in production and marketing, increase their bargaining power and add value to their products
  • Co-ops play a positive role in increasing farmers’ incomes and reducing poverty

Tubi Mo’aniu is a female farmer from the Yi ethnic minority in Dimo Village, Zhaojue County, Liangshan Prefecture. Her family grows potatoes, a local food staple for both people and livestock. Recently, she joined a farmers’ cooperative (co-op).

“In the past, the price of potato was too low and we fed it mostly to pigs. Now the co-op can help sell it for a better price,” she said. Tubi’s family harvested 8,000 kilograms (17,500 lbs) of potato last year. After setting some aside for their own consumption, she was hoping to sell the rest to help pay the tuition for her four children attending school and college.

Located in the southwestern province of Sichuan, Liangshan has China’s largest ethnic Yi community, accounting for more than half of the prefecture’s 5.21 million population. Yi people leaped from slave society to socialist society after the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949. However, poverty remained pervasive and persistent in Liangshan. As of 2014, 500,000 people were trapped in poverty, and the prefecture was designated one of the 14 areas of “concentrated poverty” by the central government.  

As China aims to eradicate extreme poverty by 2020, agriculture is a key sector and entry point for poverty reduction and development, long-term employment and income opportunities in rural areas. This is especially important for people who will not migrate to urban areas but plan to remain engaged and dependent on agriculture.


"In the past, the price of potato was too low and we fed it mostly to pigs. Now the co-op can help sell it for a better price. "
Tubi Mo’aniu
a female farmer from the Yi ethnic minority in Dimo Village, Zhaojue County, Liangshan Prefecture

With that in mind, a World Bank project in the provinces of Sichuan, Guizhou and Gansu in 2015 aimed to stimulate employment and generate income by developing farmers cooperatives and investing in agriculture infrastructure and services. With a poverty rate of 28.6%, Zhaojue was as one of the four poor counties in Liangshan included in the project.

Organizing small-scale farmers into co-ops can help them achieve economies of scale in production and marketing, increase their bargaining power and add value to their products.  With support from the project, eight farmers cooperatives were set up in Zhaojue, specializing in the two major local agricultural products – potato and semi-fine wool sheep.

The potato co-op that Tubi Mo’aniu joined includes 1,337 farmer households, 572 of which are registered as poor, across seven villages. Ma Yiwang, with a college degree and some business experience, was elected chairman of the cooperative at a villagers’ meeting. Financed by the project, a new office was built, furnished and equipped, while training and technical assistance was provided in cooperative management and business operations.

Each co-op is staffed with a trained and dedicated facilitator recruited through an open and competitive process. The facilitator’s responsibility is to help farmers understand the role of a cooperative, facilitate its creation, organize training and advise on daily operations. “I play a bridging role,” said Shen Mingying, facilitator for the Shiyuan potato co-op.

“The cooperative provides potato seeds and technical training to members, purchases fertilizer, and controls pests and diseases in a collective way. After harvesting, we buy potatoes from our members and sell them collectively,” Ma Yiwang explained. Joining the co-op is easy – a farmer household just needs to pay RMB $100 (USD $14) for a share and fill out a simple registration form.       

One of their major challenges is marketing. The cooperative has been actively looking for ways to market their produce, while working to improve its quality. E-commerce centers may be installed in the farmer co-ops by the county government to help sell their products online.

In Wanchang Township, the sheep farming cooperative covers three mountain villages with a membership of 820 households. All 367 households registered as poor have joined the cooperative. They specialize in semi-fine wool sheep, a local crossbred that produces both wool and meat. The traditional Yi cloak, called “Chaerwa,” is made of such wool.

The cooperative focuses on unified breed, unified supply, unified management, and unified marketing. Co-op households were each given five lambs, a new sheep shed, training and technical assistance. A new village road was built to make it easier for farmers to take their products to the market, said Ma Remu, the elected cooperative chairman.

Aku Zier from Dashitou (meaning Big Rock) Village herds 28 sheep that belong to five households. He hopes to increase the number of sheep over time and sell them through the co-op.  

“The World Bank project has played a very good role in promoting and accelerating our poverty alleviation program,” said Fu Kaiwen, a deputy mayor of Zhaojue County.  The project covers more than 40 villages in eight townships in Zhaojue, covering a total population of over 43,000 people, of which 14,000, or one third, are extremely poor.

“This year, we have developed some agriculture-based industry models for scaling up, similar to the pilots in the World Bank project. We require that every village must set up a cooperative to bring people out of poverty and develop the economy in a collective way,” said Fu.

The ongoing Poverty Alleviation and Agriculture-based Industry Pilot and Demonstration in Poor Areas Project has established 400 farmers cooperatives and invested in rural infrastructure and services in Sichuan, Guizhou and Gansu, benefiting 946,000 people – 343,000 registered as poor and 241,000 as ethnic minorities. 



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