Reporting Live from Yilong County, Sichuan
Hopefully this is going to be the first of many posts from my new position as an intern/fellow for the microfinance NGO Wokai. Wokai is an American-run microfinance NGO that raises money to distribute to existing small-scale local microfinance operations in China. For the next few months I will be translating, blogging, and doing odd jobs on their behalf at one of their field partners, the Association for Rural Development of Yilong County (ARDY). ARDY is a Chinese-run microfinance organization that operates in Yilong County 仪陇县, just Northeast of the city of Nanchong (and further Northeast still from Sichuan’s capital, Chengdu). The organization has been providing small-scale loans to farmers and local entrepreneurs since 1996 and has a local staff of 23.
It was a long haul to get here–a 29 hour train from Beijing to Chengdu followed by a 7-hour bus ride into Yilong county. The slopes got steeper and the curves sharper the farther our small bus followed the asphalt capilaries out of the city and into the mountains. For the most part, I was struck by how frequently the roads seem to be maintained here. All but the last stretches of road were clear and fairly free of potholes, and we frequently passed work crews repairing small stretches of road. Often the bus would approach an area where one half of the road was being repaired, leaving a stretch of pavement just barely wide enough for a vehicle to pass through. Once we approached one of these areas at the same time as a sedan from the other direction; a game of “chicken” ensued where both vehicles sped up toward the gap, not wanting to have to wait for the other vehicle to pass through. The sedan won, and we were left to wait in disgrace as it zipped around us.
The road leading into Jincheng
The scenery thus far has been absolutely incredible. As the bus takes a hairpin turn one is offered a momentary glimpse of steep green valleys, sparsely dotted with concrete dwellings. The hillsides themselves are quite heavily forested, with most actual farming taking place only at the bottoms of valleys and on small terraced patches on areas with shallow slopes.
The whole of Sichuan province itself is a basin—the center of the province is flat and quite fertile, able to support a large population. However, Yilong County is in the much more mountainous Northeastern part of the province. The landscape is generally quite steep, and as a result most of it is not suitable for agriculture. This landscape is one of the major obstacles facing rural development efforts in the area. In Jincheng 金城, the old provincial capital city out of which ARDY’s main office operates, this challenging environment is readily apparent. The town itself is literally built into the side of a mountain, and most of the roads are built on steep slopes.
A small terraced field outside Jincheng
I have hoped for the past several years to find an opportunity like this to spend some time in a rural area in China, and it has been an absolute thrill to be here so far. I plan to keep fairly regular updates on this blog, and the choicer bits will also be reproduced on the blog of Wokai’s own website…so stay tuned!