Breeding industry revives life and livelihood of debt-ridden farmer
Life was never easy for 49-year-old Ma Yongze whose daughter died of illness and his family was mired in debt of more than 350,000 yuan (about 54,500 US dollars).
Ma used to support his livelihood by planting corn and potatoes in his village in the city of Dingxi, northwest China's Gansu Province, earning an annual household income of some 40,000 yuan. About 97 percent of Ma's fellow villagers, including him, belong to the Hui ethnic group.
In May 2012 his daughter was diagnosed with leukemia, which came as a bolt from the blue. Since then, Ma and his wife had been seeking medical treatment for their daughter all over the country.
However, they had no choice but to return home because there was no effective treatment and all their savings had run out during the hard slog.
Recalling one such exhausting trip back home from faraway hospitals in 2015, Ma said he was left absolutely devastated when he saw the weeds in his yard had grown to half a man's height.
A rumor went through his neighborhood that the tragedy was caused by the ominous position of Ma's house settings and some of his neighbors even suggested he change the direction of his gate. For his child's sake, Ma just did whatever he was told, buoyed up by a sense of hope, but to no avail.
Things, however, started to pick up after local poverty alleviation cadres visited Ma in 2016 and the family was registered as an impoverished household. Surely, superstition did not help but a pragmatic approach did.
Thanks to the supportive policies of the local government, life began to smile on Ma. He renovated his shabby house with government subsidies, and the civic-minded cadres helped him reimburse medical expenses and apply for temporary assistance.
To Ma's relief, his daughter's condition also showed signs of improvement. But the debt-ridden farmer must seek another way out on his own instead of burning through the savings and government subsidies.
"I can't just rely on the government assistance. I need to get back on my feet and return the favor to those who had helped me," Ma said.
Since the village boasts suitable natural conditions for developing breeding industry and the Hui people possess gifted animal breeding skills, Ma bought three sheep on credit and applied for a loan to buy dairy and beef cattle. The local government allocated another nine sheep to Ma for free.
Hence, it became Ma's routine to feed sheep and cattle early in the morning. As soon as he is done feeding the herd, he would ride his tricycle to the nearby construction sites, helping deliver cement and sand. Thereafter, he would rush back to hoe the field.
When working in the field, all Ma would think of if he could strike gold with his hoe so he can bid farewell to the grinding penury and save his daughter.
The greatest tragedy struck the man in 2018, when his daughter's health deteriorated leading to her untimely demise. The impermanence of life once again overwhelmed the couple. Their dream of living a "Xiaokang" life, rendered in English as a moderately prosperous life in all respects, was shattered.
However, it augmented some hope for the couple when Ma Peng, one of the local poverty alleviation cadres, informed them that more than 80 percent of the local Hui people had shaken off poverty by breeding animals.
Ma Yongze was given 50 sheep on credit by his schoolmate who ran a cattle-raising cooperative. Meanwhile, he joined a free training course on breeding skills provided by the local government, learning about livestock disease control and husbandry techniques.
In 2019, Ma Yongze's net income exceeded 100,000 yuan and his family hence shook off poverty.
Ma and his wife later planned to expand the breeding scale. With the help of the village cadres, they soon found a suitable place for their new cowshed. Covering an area of 840 square meters, the cowshed, along with a 1,000-square-meter forage grass processing and sales station, has become their new bonanza.
Ma is sanguine about the loans and he said he hopes to pay the debt back in two years.
Currently, Ma raises 32 cattle and more than 110 sheep. The arrival of a new baby to the family gave them more reasons to smile.
"Without the support and guidance from the village cadres and my relatives and friends, I would never have come this far," Ma said, adding that he expects his story to inspire more people to start afresh after all the past sufferings.