A pilot project in partnership with Qinyuan in Gansu
Field Visit Dates: January 13–15, 2016
Location: Caizi community in Lucha village, which is in Huining County of Gansu Province
Representatives and Report Authors: TFish Staff Chang Aiju, Guan Yin, and Wang Li
Follow-Up Visit Objectives:
Microloans for Women
The Microloans for Women was a pilot project launched on May 12, 2015, when twenty families were selected for loans of 2000 yuan (about $320 USD) each. Their investments were in livestock of their own choice. The project is co-sponsored by Transparent Fish Fund and Qinyuan Rural Development in Gansu. TFish contributes the loan capital, while Qinyuan manages the local affairs.
Visiting the Families
We were accompanied by Qinyuan's leader Mr. Ma and his new staff Suhong. Suhong was a recent university graduate with a Muslim ethnic background, and she had been involved in charitable activities throughout her school years. We wished her well as she took over the job left by Mr. Wang Manting. We missed Wang, who was very familiar with the villagers and their activities.
The weather was cold and dry, and the hardened roadway made it easier to ride and walk. Our last visit was in June, when we were forced to abandon our vehicle which got stuck in the muddy road.
This time of the year was the off-season for farming. It provided plenty of time for us to have in-depth conversations. Besides raising livestock, there was other work to do in the winter, like making shoes for their family members.
Microloan Project Progress
Among the 20 loan borrowers, 18 of them chose to raise sheep, and 2 chose cows. Almost all of them enjoyed growth in their number of livestock. Since the market price wasn't high, some of them could purchase as many as four ewes instead of two. The pregnancy period of a ewe was five months, and we noticed that many families already gained two to four new lambs in seven months. Usually an ewe could get pregnant twice a year, and each time would give birth to two lambs. A three-month-old sheep would be worth 500 yuan in the market. So far, they have held on to their cute little sheep for a better market price.
One less lucky family still had the same number of sheep, even after seven months of grazing. The family purchased two ewes, but unfortunately, one fell and died. When the one left gave birth to two lambs, one of them died and only one survived. This family asked Mr. Ma for an exemption of the loan repayment under the circumstances. Mr. Ma replied that he preferred to stay with the agreement.
A Woman's First Income in Her Life
With all the different outcomes, these families were very assertive with their repayments of the loans. The various conversations revealed their positive attitude and self-confidence.
Besides the discussion of the healthy financial situations, one conversation in particular caught our attention. One woman said to us that she would have the first income in her life time after selling the sheep. Her husband asked her to make her own decision with the money, since it was her project.
The objective of this project was to promote the awareness that women, who make up half of the total human resources, were capable to contribute more to society. As we mentioned in the last field report, the loans were designed for women, although their men made the decision and signed the legal papers. In reality, this village was a fairly conservative community, and we had not expected this kind of outcome. It could be an isolated case, but we were very pleased.
Looking Beyond Livestock Microloans
Before entering Lucha village, we dropped by the jurisdictional town hall and paid a visit to Minister Chen. Qinyuan's Mr. Ma briefed us on the progress of the ongoing projects, and then Minister Chen talked about his thoughts regarding the well-beings of the households.
The villagers who were breeding cattle and sheep were off to a good start, but the animal market price had been in a down turn in the last three years. The poultry industry could deliver a better return. However, the villagers wouldn't take the high risk of getting infectious diseases like avian flu. Turning to the possibility of crop farming, the same cautious considerations applied. Growing fruit could yield high value products, but it required a great amount of capital and skills. Among various options, the one to plant Sichuan pepper (zanthoxylum) seemed like it might work. It seemed suitable to grow in this area. A sapling at a cost of 4 yuan might annually produce 400-yuan worth of Sichuan peppers when it matured in three years. An average family in the village would be able to handle 70 trees on its land.
Looking beyond the success of the Microloans for Women, Minister Chen wished for more funding to support new projects, like growing Sichuan peppers. Mr. Ma realized the potential and expressed that it was essential to have a detailed business plan, including the costs, training, market trends, and the villagers' interests.
On this trip, we observed three projects that were cosponsored by Qinyuan and OXFAM Hong Kong.
1) Home Lavatories
It was planned to build 86 home lavatories, and 60 had already been completed before the winter. The cost of each unit was about 2000 yuan. An incentive of 500 yuan for each unit was set up to encourage the ordinary families to participate. The amount increased to 800 and 1200 yuan to subsidize low and no income households. The participants were responsible for getting the cement and bricks, while the sponsor provided PVC pipes and roofing panels. Following the construction drawing and a mock-up unit, there were no difficulties for the villagers to build their own units. The payments would be received when the unit passed the completion inspection. Compared to our last visit, the community's sanitation and public health were greatly improved.
2) Physical Exams for Women
Women were encouraged to receive a general examination, including gynecological tests and lab work on urine and blood. The project was budgeted for 160 females to go to a local hospital. Due to the strong conservative culture in the community, only 60 took part, despite the intense persuasion from Qinyuan's staff. Among the 60, two of them were detected with serious gynecological problems. One of the two has already completed her surgical operation. The cost for examination was 150 yuan per person. The project covered the examinations, but not the surgery.
3) Village Cooperatives
The registration was completed a few month ago, and the cooperative became official with seven directors. It targeted 123 families for membership, and so far, 36 families signed up, paying 800 yuan per share. At this early stage, Mr. Ma mapped out two goals, which were conducting direct trading and producing flax oil. The direct purchasing and selling as a group would gain volume discounts and skip the costly middlemen. These financial advantages could be easily overlooked in daily life. Hence, a workshop for the flax oil extraction was introduced to provide a tangible operation and a stronger feeling of the ownership of the cooperative. Although the flax seeds were already a common harvest in the village, establishing an oil extraction workshop wasn't an easy task. It needed a clean location, skilled workers, extraction equipment, and business management. According to one of the directors, the main obstacle was participation. The concept of the cooperatives was very new to the villagers. It would take a long time for them to appreciate the business value of the team action formed by the fellow members.
An Extra Visit: A Water Well in Youfangshe
We had an opportunity to visit Youfangshe, an adjacent community, where we studied the installation of a water well, completed in 2013. Qinyuan and OXFAM were the sponsors. The well was 3 feet in diameter and 40 feet deep with an enclosure as a water station. It's enough to supply 29 families (150 people) with water, at a minimized cost of 20,000 yuan. The survey engineering was done by Mr. Ma's friend without charge, and the drilling was manually dug by the volunteer villagers. To be operational, a few business matters were arranged. An agreement was negotiated with the landowner after the location was determined by the surveyor. Administrative rules were setup for the long-term operation. An administrator was assigned to take care of the well.
Original report written by TFish staff Chang Aiju, Guan Yin, and Wang Li; Translated by Kai Chao; Edited by Carolyn D.
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