（Written by Huang Yunyun / Translated by Chen Zhiying）On April 6, 2021, the State Council of China released the white paper China’s Practice in Human Poverty Reduction, which not only shows the country’s great achievements made in poverty reduction to the world, but also elaborates on its contribution to global poverty reduction such as the “East Asia Poverty Reduction Demonstration Cooperation Technical Assistance Projects” program implemented in rural communities in Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar. Among the three countries, Guangxi Foreign Capital Poverty Reduction Project Management Center is the unit responsible for the poverty reduction in Laos. It has carried out poverty reduction for three years in Ban Xor Village in Sangthong of Lao capital Vientiane and Xienglom Village in Luang Prabang.
What changes has the poverty reduction project brought to villagers’ lives? How does China lift local people out of poverty? Wei Ke, Deputy Director of Guangxi Foreign Capital Poverty Reduction Project Management Center, answered these questions in an interview with the reporter from China-ASEAN Panorama.
Chinese team brings new look to demonstration village
From 2017 to 2020, great changes have taken place in the two poverty reduction demonstration villages of Ban Xor and Xienglom — flat asphalt roads, solid steel truss bridges, and brand-new infrastructures like school buildings and activity centers, all of which epitomize the great achievements made in poverty reduction cooperation between China and Laos.
In the photo provided by Guangxi Foreign Capital Poverty Reduction Project Management Center, a young man’s hair and back are covered with yellow dust raised from dirt roads. In the past, villagers in Ban Xor got used to it. “In rainy days we are troubled by mud, while in sunny days, by dust.” Kham Zham, Deputy Head of the village once summed up the troubles brought by the dirt road to the villagers. Now, a total of 4.16 kilometers of asphalt roads have replaced the original ones, bringing vitality to the two villages.
According to Wei Ke, in addition to the roads, old bridges were once a headache too. In the past, the old wooden bridge in Ban Xor was supported by dense wooden piles standing on the river bed, serving as the only way for children to go to school. Now, it has been replaced by a steel truss bridge with modern piers, trusses, and roads, which are solid and reliable. After completing, the bridge not only facilitates the communication between villagers, but also makes sure vehicles can directly pass through, ending the era of wading through the water. “We didn’t even dream of such a day.” Kham Zham’s words impressed Wei Ke.
Electricity is the rigid demand of people. Although villagers’ daily electricity consumption has been met before, there is no illumination at night in the village. Since the implementation of the China-Laos Poverty Reduction Project, solar lamps have been seen on the streets in the village, which not only optimized the illumination conditions, but also enriched the villagers’ night lives. According to Wei Ke, now, many convenience stores and snack bars are open at night. Villagers gather to chat and children play under the street lamps. The whole village is more bustling than before.
In a word, people engaged in China-Laos Poverty Reduction Project have made great efforts in improving infrastructure. Besides the improvemnt in infrastructure, they have also built a variety of public facilities, effectively improving the living environment of the villagers.
Campana Seyanon, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Forestry of Laos, showed a positive attitude towards the project: China-aided Laos Poverty Reduction Demonstration Cooperation Project is jointly implemented by the two governments. It has brought Laos a new model in poverty reduction. We will promote it to the whole country to benefit more people.
Integrating people-oriented philosophy into poverty reduction
People function as the core element of society. In poverty reduction cooperation, China has always upheld the people-oriented philosophy, reflected not only in the selection of projects, but also in the process of implementation.
According to Wei Ke, poverty reduction is based on the principle of supplying the shortage. Villagers have the final say in this respect. In the process of investigating the feasibility of the project, the poverty reduction team organized villagers to vote for their most urgent needs, which appeared to be household water shortage. “There are 814 people in 169 households in Xienglom Village. For generations, people rely on collecting rainwater or carrying water from the Nam Khan river to meet their needs in daily life. However, the riverbed is deep and it is not easy to collect water in the dry season. Besides, the water quality failed the drinking water test by local departments. Villagers have been troubled by this problem for a long time,” said Wei Ke.
Besides household water shortage, the voting rate of constructing roads, activity centers, clinics, solar street lamps is also very high. Since the funds for assistance are limited, how can we meet their needs as much as possible? The poverty reduction team tried to find ways to reduce the cost of the water diversion project.
According to Wei Ke, with the help of the local government, the poverty reduction team organized local people to work voluntarily. From five kilometers away, villagers found mountain spring water meeting the safety standards. The water pipes were connected to every household. “They are enthusiastic about participating in the construction. Everyone knows that they are working for themselves. Through the concerted efforts, the cost of the water diversion project has been reduced from RMB 2 million yuan to RMB 670,000 yuan,” said Wei Ke.
The water pipes bring not only drinking water to the villagers but also the Water Splashing Festival, a major traditional festival in Laos, to their homes. “In the past, there was no clean water source in the village, so the villagers had to go to Luang Prabang for the Water Splashing Festival. Now, they can splash water and pray at home,” said Wei Ke.
As for the agricultural development in the two demonstration villages, Wei Ke said:“ It is still in a very primary stage.” He pointed out that Laos has a single agricultural structure that lacks technical and financial support. There is no irrigation equipment or the equipment is primitive. The harvest largely depends on “providence”.
According to Wei Ke, to solve this problem, after improving the infrastructure, the assistance would turn to promote people’s livelihood. Based on the existing industrial structure, the investment would be increased to aid low- and middle-income farmers. At present, Xienglom Village has developed weaving, cattle and chicken raising, greenhouse and open-air vegetable planting, and other projects as planned. Take the vegetable planting as an example, each household can increase income by more than RMB 10,000 yuan per year.
More contribution to ASEAN countries in poverty reduction
In the past three years, China-Laos Poverty Reduction Project drew lessons from China’s “whole-village pushing forward in poverty alleviation” which features government-led and mass participation, providing assistance to the demonstration villages in infrastructure construction, public services, people’s livelihood, and agricultural management ability, and technical support. Under the same standard, the poverty headcount ratio in the demonstration villages has reduced significantly from 52% to 25%.
In November 2020, at the 23rd ASEAN Plus Three (APT) Summit, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang proposed that China is willing to implement phase II of the Cooperation Initiative on Poverty Alleviation in East Asia, so as to achieve coordinated regional development. The poverty reduction team had integrated a lot of experience gained in Guangxi into the cooperation with Laos before. However, because of the poor conditions in targeted villages and limited time, plus the outbreak of the pandemic, some designs and concepts failed to work at full capacity in the two demonstration villages. In this regard, Wei Ke said:“ We hope to implement phase II of the project and make more contributions to the poverty reduction in ASEAN countries based on the experience of China-Laos Poverty Reduction Project.”
Wei Ke believes that Guangxi has better poverty alleviation experience to help Laos in revitalizing poor rural areas. In rural development, he proposed to let enterprises, universities, and social organizations in Laos participate in the project, so as to achieve broad participation in poverty alleviation. In agricultural development, he proposed to improve the specialization of cooperative organizations, optimize crop varieties and quality, and establish brand awareness, to add value to agricultural products. Besides, he suggested to develop processing industries to extend industrial chains, increasing employment opportunities. In developing the rural collective economy, he proposed to promote the quality and efficiency of rural development based on the upgraded rural infrastructure and public facilities.
Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime. With the continuous advancement of the China-Laos community with a shared future, we believe that more poverty reduction cooperation between China and Laos is yet to come.
Source: China-ASEAN Panorama