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Dreams of better futures in countryside come true

Updated: Mar 12, 2024 By MA CHENGUANG and ZHUANG QIANGE China Daily Print
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Dai Shuangjie spends a joyful day at her chicken farm in Tongcheng, Anhui province, last summer. [PHOTO/CHINA DAILY]

East China's Anhui province is helping bring about brighter futures for over 61 million people in 104 county-level areas administering various towns and villages. In short, the modernization of Anhui's agricultural and rural areas will basically be achieved by 2035, making it a pioneer in China.

The province's 25.43 million rural residents living in its 16 prefecture-level cities have answered the timely call by devising their own paths for prosperity.

Chu Jie, 31, who graduated from Anqing Vocational & Technical College in 2015 with a marketing degree, decided to build his hometown of Weiling — a national ecological town — into a tourist hot spot integrating catering, accommodation, sightseeing, leisure and folk culture.

Chu returned to his hometown in Yuexi county of Anqing, and joined his elder brother Chu Lei in 2015 in setting up Jinbang (Top-notch) Homestay, a rare business venture in Jiahe village under Weiling's administration.

Nestled in the Dabie Mountains and originally hampered by inconvenient transport and therefore with few outside visitors, Jiahe sports distinctive, fresh agricultural produce, relaxing lifestyles and impressive ecology as a small village.

Chu's homestay has launched its own website and WeChat account, posting photos online of four guest rooms on the second floor of their home, together with captions. On May 1 of that year when the homestay officially opened, they greeted 12 tourists from Hefei — the provincial capital — and Nanjing — the provincial capital of nearby Jiangsu.

"We adhere to our own business philosophy of 'small but exquisite operations'," the younger Chu said, adding that with only 23 guest rooms, the homestay has kept a maximum occupancy of some 45 tenants per day.

Their persistence has led to a booming business. Each year, they receive over 3,000 tourists from all over the country, with rooms almost full all through the summer and an annual business income of some 1 million yuan ($138,900).

The two brothers also encouraged 12 nearby households to join in as an alliance, and helped another 18 surrounding homestays in business operations and development.

In less than three years, they founded three companies to provide catering services and foodstuffs for tourists, and advised village businesses on how to market local produce, which could provide supplemental income for each participating household.

The success of Jinbang Homestay has drawn the attention of the township government, which has invested more than 500,000 yuan to improve local road conditions, build parking lots, erect streetlights and renovate the villages' waterways, in a bid to help boost rural vitalization.

As the Chu brothers are now thinking of further business expansion, back in 2017, Jinbang Homestay was selected as one of the "Top Eight Summer Tourism Destinations in Anhui" by the Anhui Provincial Meteorological Bureau.

Hard-won success

While Chu Jie enjoyed smooth business development, Dai Shuangjie and her husband Fo Guoxing experienced a bumpier road to success.

After graduating from Anqing Agricultural School (the predecessor of AVTC) in 2003 majoring in horticulture, Dai was recommended by the school to work in a flower company in nearby Zhejiang province.

In just a few years, she progressed from an ordinary worker to a technician specializing in soil quality and the cultivation of orchids in laboratories with a handsome monthly salary.

In 2011, Dai decided to try planting crops on 13.3 hectares of farmland on her own, thinking that she had mastered the needed knowledge, and had the ability to carry out the enterprising task.

She expanded the farmland to 26.6 hectares in 2012, and 80 hectares in 2013, when her husband resigned from his job in Anqing and joined her in Qipan Ridge in Tongcheng, a county-level city administered by Anqing.

The couple even rented an idle primary school in the village and used the surrounding barren mountains to raise poultry, with a division of labor — the wife tending crops and her spouse handling the chickens.

In the spring of 2014, they decided to set up their own Shuangfu Family Farm by taking two Chinese characters from their names and using homophones.

Catastrophe hit in 2016, when continuous heavy downpours caused floods and rendered Dai's rice output moldy and spoiled, while Fo's uncle and Dai's father were only able to provide the chickens with moldy rice, which led to the birds' demise.

Four years later, in the summer of 2020, floods returned, inundating 67 hectares of Dai's farmland, with all her investments only partially compensated by her insurer.

"We needed to pay the land rent by year-end and had to pay our workers, and it was a very difficult time for us," Fo recalled.

Seeing Dai completely floored with dark thoughts every day and no strength to work due to insomnia, Fo did his best to console his wife, saying: "Even if we had a loss of 1 million yuan this year, we could recover it in 10 years, as we are still young."

Fo added his wife was comforted by her husband's tenderness, and together, they enjoyed much more success going forward.

At present, they are operating a 106-hectare farm, bringing them enough zinc-rich rice, and a 33.3-hectare forestland, where some 10,000 chickens and ducks roam freely with sufficient eggs. The forest also yields them wood-pressed edible oils.

Dai has also built a rice processing plant to better process her products, which are well-received by the market, and she provides employment for about 50 women living nearby and some temporary work for the elderly.

Dai has been elected an outstanding female entrepreneur in Tongcheng, a model worker in the city as well as a female representative for Anqing, while Fo has also been chosen as a village official and served as a political advisor for Tongcheng.

In recent years, they also became the key targets for training assistance by local governments, which sent Dai to study at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in November 2020, and supported her in receiving a 15-day training session at Huazhong Agricultural University as a candidate chosen by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs.

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