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.