Peng Zishun, who made a fortune in the steel business in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province after arriving in 1987, founded a tourism development company in his relatively poor hometown of Luodong, Luhe County, Shanwei, Guangdong, in late 2015.
“I wanted my villagers to get richer. A 26-year-old man lived next door who couldn’t find a wife at the time because of poverty,” said Peng, who is now the village’s party secretary.
Tourism was chosen because of the natural scenery in the lush mountains surrounding the village as well as the creek and the thousands of plum trees that bloom there in January.
The village received 30,000 visitors on the peak day of the plum blossom festival in January last year. The restaurants and hotels were fully booked. Locally grown and processed foods such as canned plums and plum brandy also sold well.
In April 2016, Li Jianwen, who was formerly deputy party chief of the Traditional Chinese Medicine Department at Guangdong Food and Drug Vocational College, was transferred to the impoverished village to promote its prosperity.
“The road to the village was very narrow and winding. The river is 30 meters below me next to the road. My colleague was afraid to keep going and I took the wheel,” recalled Li.
Li and his assistant initially identified 34 households with 94 family members in Luodong as experiencing poverty, with 13 of the families having working members.
For example, in a family of seven, Peng Jisong, who worked on construction sites outside the village, was the family’s only income earner. His wife often had to buy rice and meat on credit.
Li brought cooking and restaurant service experts to Luodong from his college to train local restaurant workers, but realized that these efforts were not enough to lift the village out of poverty.
An industry with relatively low investment and quick returns was needed, and given the area’s natural resources, beekeeping finally made it onto the village’s anti-poverty agenda in early 2017.
However, it took a lot of persuasion to get poor villagers to participate in the program.
“Their income and their fragile financial structure did not allow for even a small failure,” said Li. “They had neither the attitude nor the means.”
In June 2017, the first batch of bees was distributed free of charge to the villagers.
Training courses were held regularly. Beekeeping classes were held three nights a week in Li’s office, and a team of experts came to the village at least once a week to guide the villagers.
Blessed with favorable natural conditions, the program’s villagers reaped a hearty honey crop, averaging 20,000 yuan (US $ 2,991) per family that year. The addition of income from plum growing raised families above the poverty line.
With the booming bee population and honey money booming, villagers became more confident in the business. Peng Jisong, who originally refused to participate in the program, began raising bees in late 2017. Last year, he made 50,000 yuan from honey sales.
Some families who are not classified as experiencing poverty also jumped on the wagon.
Fifty-year-old Liao Shaoting covered the mosquito net over his bed with two layers of plastic wrap to protect him from raindrops that seeped through cracks in the ceiling. He joined the bee program in 2016 and earned 50,000 yuan from beekeeping and another 6,000 yuan from plum care last year.
“I was scared (to start beekeeping),” he said. “Then Professor Luo (Yuexiong) often came to teach us. I went to Gaozhou in Maoming, Guangdong, on a honey-picking tour. I wanted to do the same as other beekeepers.” Luo is the former director of the Bee Research Center at the Guangdong Entomological Institute.
Liao has since remodeled his house, which has two bedrooms, a kitchen, and a flush toilet, largely with a 40,000 yuan grant from the government to renovate run-down homes. He said he plans to raise more bees than goats.
Liao said he appreciated the improved environment in the village, which includes a paved road, renovated houses, public flush toilets and proper garbage disposal, a result of the nationwide “Building a New Landscape” program.
To expand and strengthen the bee business trademark, a cooperative was formed in 2018 and a young graduate named Peng Zhihua was persuaded to quit his previous job to run the business. In addition, Li and his villagers have planted about 6,000 trees on the mountain to expand the nectar source for honeybees.
The village now has 1,873 registered residents in over 300 households. More than 400 of them are permanent residents, while others live or work elsewhere.
Families with no working members will be lifted out of poverty by securing funds from related measures, including alimony.
Tourism, plum growing, beekeeping, and solar-related jobs are the four main sources of income in Luodong. The village plans to build a honey processing plant, a bee museum and a bee park. With Lis College’s expertise, honey-based cosmetic products can also be developed.
For Li, who will eventually leave the village, the keys to Luodong’s future are deepening the existing businesses, reaching consensus among the villagers about the next level of development, and returning more young people to revitalize their home village.