ang Zhirong’s courtyard has two cattle sheds: the bigger one houses eight cows, the other four. These cattle are the main source of income for Yang and his family in Xiji County, Northwest China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.
Xiji is tucked in remote Xihaigu, a mountainous area of southern Ningxia known for its harsh environment. Containing nine counties and districts, Xihaigu was deemed among the most unfit places for human settlement by the UN World Food Program in the 1970s.
Fast forward four decades, the environment and living standards of Xihaigu’s farmers have changed significantly over the last decade thanks to China’s intensified poverty alleviation programs.
Not far from Yang’s house in the town of Malian is his cornfield. His harvested corn silage, once it is fermented in an excavated 30-square-meter pit nearby, will be used to feed his cattle.
According to Yang, fermented corn silage is more suited to the cattle’s appetite, which makes them grow faster than plain hay.
“There are government subsidies for planting corn for silage,” Zhang Yongqiang, deputy head of Xiji County, told NewsChina. “Farmers get a 200-yuan (US$30.2) subsidy for planting the corn per mu (0.067 hectares), and 2,000 yuan (US$302) for excavating a fermentation pit.”
The subsidies have helped increase corn production enough to feed the livestock of each household. Many farmers are also switching to higher-yielding, higher-priced beef cattle breeds like Simmental and Angus.
Small-scale cattle farming has significantly increased incomes for farmers. Yang Zhirong sold two cows last year, the bigger one fetching 23,000 yuan (US$3,480) and the other 15,000 yuan (US$2,270). This meant an annual per capita income of up to 7,600 yuan (US$1,150) for his family of five, far exceeding the provincial poverty line of 4,100 yuan (US$620) per person annually.
Wei Tingfeng, Party secretary of Malian, told NewsChina the town’s total cattle stock is more than 21,000, or 1.35 head per villager. In Xihaigu’s largest city, Guyuan, the total has surpassed 1.1 million head.
Ma Hancheng, mayor of Guyuan and vice chairman of the Ningxia regional government, told the reporter that cattle farming has increased the average income of farmers by 2,000 yuan (US$303) per year. Ma said the city will open a slaughterhouse with an annual capacity of 100,000 cattle to reduce transportation costs for farmers.