Ecological restoration turns sewage-infested Chinese village into model for world

By Zhang Dan Source:Global Times Published: 2018/12/4 18:32:44

Water protection and ecological restoration brought the once shabby Lujia village to the world stage

The UN environment agency executive director said Zhejiang's villages will be examples for villages of China and the whole world to follow

The village's experience proves preserving the environment can boost development

A woman works on a tea farm called Yingyuan, one of the 18 farms in Lujia village, Anji county, East China's Zhejiang Province on November 20. Photo: Li Hao/GT

Lujia village in Anji county, East China's Zhejiang Province, derives its name from Lu Ban, a Chinese carpenter, engineer and inventor during the Zhou Dynasty (1046BC-221BC). It is said a group of craftsmen settled in the area 500 years ago and established a village on the barren land.

Even now, the spirit of "creating something out of nothing" has influenced the local villagers, generation by generation.

The director of Lujia village, Qiu Liqin, went to the United Nations Headquarters in New York on September 26 as one of the representatives of Zhejiang Province to receive the Champions of the Earth Award.

The province's Green Rural Revival Program won the award due to its successful cleanup of previously heavily polluted rivers and streams.

Erik Solheim, executive director of the UN environment agency, told Qiu that Zhejiang's villages represent the villages of the future for China and the whole world. 

Villager Chen Youmin stands in front of his houses. Photo: Li Hao/GT

Out of nothing

Cloud and mist remained in the bamboo forests in Lujia village after drizzle in the late autumn. The dew gathered on the bamboo leaves. In addition to the twitter of birds, what awakened villagers were "hello" and laughter from children.

With years of water protection and ecological restoration, many villagers have moved into beautiful houses, living on tidy streets.

It is hard to imagine the now beautiful and clean town used to be dirty and poor.

"Sewage was running everywhere in the village. Nobody took care of the garbage. People just dumped their trash by the river," Qiu told the Global Times.

Her colleague Zhu Renbin, the village secretary, agreed the town used to be very shabby. As a local person, he didn't want to come back home after graduating from college during the 1990s, because the roads were so poor. The only type of vehicle going into the village was a truck with three wheels.

"Once the truck passed by, our clothes would get covered with dust," Zhu said.

"After I finished my undergraduate studies and came home, I found nothing had changed in the town. It was exactly the same as in my childhood." He started to think about why other villages were changing but not his hometown.

Giving up his own business of sporting goods retailing in the county, Zhu was elected as village secretary in 2011 and vowed to make it thrive.

The village faced a tough question: how could it prosper without any industry or tourist attractions?

Tourists take the train to see local modern farms. Photo: Li Hao/GT

Tough step

The  Oscar-winning film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon includes a martial arts fight scene shot in the bamboo backdrop at Anji county. The county has been praised for its efforts to champion ecological conservation, and for its  production of the precious Anji white tea.

When President Xi Jinping, then secretary of the Zhejiang Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of China, visited Anji county in 2005, he said people should not promote economic development at the expense of the environment. "Lucid waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets," Xi said.

In order to bring a good ecological environment back, Xi launched the Green Rural Revival Program in Zhejiang, aiming to improve water protection, pollution prevention and ecological restoration.

Working for a town administrated by Anji, Zhu and his colleagues directed their efforts toward environmental protection.

Lujia village responded to the program at early stage and opted for environmental protection over economic development.

However, there was only 6,000 yuan ($870) in the collective account of the village, and 1.5 million yuan in debt. That meant no money was available for the renovation project.

As a result, Zhu spent 85,000 yuan of his own money to buy trash bins, and he hired cleaners in Lujia village.

Unexpectedly, villagers didn't understand the policy and complained about sorting rubbish and putting it into trash bins.

Some villagers were used to dumping trash by the river, and said Zhu and his leadership went too far.

They also refused to demolish their old precarious houses, and were unwilling to move into new ones.

Qiu recalled one hot summer night when an old man scolded Zhu and her and told them to get out of his house, because he was not satisfied with the relocation compensation. The old man was hoping to get more money. Though suffering from injustice, Qiu walked toward the door and closed it, saying, "We should close the door in case mosquitos come into your house."

After hours of negotiation, the villager agreed to sign the relocation contract.

Qiu and Zhu couldn't remember how many nights like this they went through in 2011. "Maybe our hard work touched the villagers. Some of them offered a hand to persuade those who didn't support the village revival," Qiu said.

Villagers in Lujia clean up trash on the street. Photo: Li Hao/GT

Green is gold

Under the Zhejiang River Chiefs program, Lujia village hired local women to manage bodies of water and supervise the environment, preventing and controlling pollution.

A 37-year-old local villager told the Global Times that she took over the job as a river chief from her mother-in-law seven years ago.

"I never thought that our village could develop like this. My daughter told me she felt so proud of being born in Lujia village," she said.

According to the UN environment agency, 97 percent of villages in Zhejiang have transformed their polluted waterways into clean, drinkable rivers, benefitting 30 million residents.

This Global Times reporter found that whenever local villagers found trash on the street or in the water, they would immediately clean it up.

Zhu said he started the village revival by purchasing trash bins because he understood a good environment is the foundation to achieve rural revival. "Once the ecological environment is destroyed, it is very difficult to fix," he said, emphasizing the village would never welcome polluting enterprises or factories.

After years of hard work and restoring the environment, Lujia village earned the title "Fine Model of a Beautiful Village," and is welcoming hundreds of other villages from across China to learn from its experience.

The blueprint

The pleasant environment has attracted investors.

Lijia village has received financing from various channels, such as reputable and rich villagers, the city government and local enterprises.

Zhu always said, "Let the professionals do the professional things!" In 2013, he invited professional rural planners to the village to create  a development plan that was worth 3 million yuan.

Even though many villagers opposed such an expensive invitation at the very beginning, they are happy and grateful for Zhu's insightful decision.

In 2013, a 4.5-kilometer-railway was built in the village. It connects 18 farms in the town. Farms growing bamboo, vegetables, fruit and plants for traditional Chinese medicine are being built, and will be finished by next year.

Lujia village owes its success to its special operation model, known as "company-village-farm," Zhu said.

A tourism company is responsible for daily operation and marketing of the village. The village committee works on administration and coordination work, integrating resources of the government and the public. Farms focus on infrastructure construction and industrial upgrading.

The village's achievement can be reflected in hard numbers. The average annual income of local villagers was 14,700 yuan in 2011, and rose to 35,600 yuan in 2017. Moreover, the committee issued stock equity in 2014. Now, each share of its stock is worth 19,811 yuan.

"We want to introduce our operation model and experience to many other villages in China, in order to make their path easier," Zhu said. "Lujia village had success with ecological restoration. So can every village in China."



Newspaper headline: Greening the farms

Posted in: IN-DEPTH

blog comments powered by Disqus