Cattlemen's high hopes for Year of the Ox
For Wei Zhizhong, this year's Spring Festival carried some special meaning. It was the first Chinese Lunar New Year he had celebrated since shaking off poverty.
"I stuffed my refrigerator with enough meat and fresh vegetables in advance, and we were able to enjoy delicious food during this traditional festival," said Wei, who was born in the Year of the Ox 48 years ago. "I used to put in less meat when making dishes or dumplings because I could hardly afford much in the past."
Wei lives in Hebu Village, once a poverty-stricken village in Xihaigu, one of China's poorest areas located in northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. Before raising cattle, Wei was a farmer living at the mercy of the elements, his tough situation compounded by responsibility for two small children and his wife's mental disorder.
Thanks to China's national campaign against poverty, Wei was offered a job in 2017 as a forest ranger with an annual salary of 10,000 yuan (about 1,547 US dollars). In the same year, he received a loan of 50,000 yuan to raise cattle.
"Now I earn a stable income with this job and those cattle, and I have nothing to worry about," he said.
Wei shook off poverty last June, months before the whole Xihaigu area made the historic step of eliminating absolute poverty.
"I was born in the Year of the Ox. According to the Chinese zodiac, cattle must be my lucky animal," said Wei. "I plan to raise more and look forward to a much better life."
Cattleman Yang Baocai also cast off poverty by raising cattle. Yang, 58, lives in Mingchuan Village of Hechuan Township, about 60 km away from Hebu Village. He raises 40 cattle and has become one of the wealthiest people in the village, despite once being among the poorest.
Like many others in Xihaigu, Yang clearly remembers the hardships that he endured, living in dilapidated houses and fetching his drinking water from nearby creeks.
Yang will never forget one winter in the 1980s, when the barn was burned down accidently, and the whole family had to celebrate the Spring Festival with nothing but some boiled potatoes.
"We were too poor to enjoy a happy festival at that time. We didn't have accommodation or delicious food to offer relatives who visited, just potato noodles," said Yang.
With roads and other infrastructure improving under China's targeted poverty alleviation scheme, Yang was able to find work outside the village and eventually shook off poverty. Later, he lived a stable and well-off life and began to raise cattle with help from the government.
Yang restored his house, and bought a new TV set and even a safe, in which he would keep the cash for buying and selling cattle. For Yang, those changes were the result of his own diligence but also of favorable policies. He received a governmental subsidy of nearly 20,000 yuan last year to build a silage pool and raise calves.
"With such good policies, no one would stay poor, so long as he worked hard," said Yang.
According to Ma Junren, the deputy township head of Hechuan, there are over 10,000 cattle in the township, with cattle rearing accounting for about 70 percent of the local villagers' incomes.
"I have been helping fight poverty in the rural frontline for 10 years, and I know how important cattle are for villagers, especially in improving their lives," said Ma.
During the Spring Festival holiday, Yang remained busy, feeding the cattle and cleaning the cattle shed.
"I'm busy but happy, and I have a lot to look forward to," he smiled.