Monday, November 09, 2009


The field project I've been most involved with since I've been here is one in which we're giving aid grants to "especially impoverished" farmers who are struggling to make ends meet at home while their family members have left to seek work in China's major cities. Those living in China's rural areas are nearly all subsistence farmers, so there are extremely few opportunities to earn actual cash in the countryside, and many farmers head to China's industrial zones to seek work in manufacturing plants, construction projects, or coal mining. This project is essentially an aid project, in which 300 households that meet the parameters Daba and the CFPA have set out for the project will each receive RMB3,000 (about USD 280).

While I personally don't find the project to be very sustainable because of its one-off nature, there is still a desperate need in many cases for a lump sum of cash, and the hope is that this aid grant will be used towards pressing medical fees, home improvements (especially those that suffered earthquake damage last year but did not qualify for government aid) or other critical expenses. The process by which we decide who is to receive the grants has been particularly interesting to me. We are doling out the cash to households in 8 different village communities, and we start by meeting with the local, government-appointed communist party officials in the villages. After we explain the parameters of the project, these officials then nominate households within their jurisdiction whom they think qualify for the funds. Obviously, this brings up some concerns--most notably the fact the the party officials would be inclined to nominate friends of family members while neglecting to nominate anyone who had done something in the past to upset the village government. We do, however, follow up and inspect every house and interview every villager nominated to ensure that the funds go to those most in need. While I still think there is a chance that some villagers who deserved the money could have been neglected, we managed to eliminate some gratuitous nominations on our first inspection trip--a few nominees with sturdy, 2-story houses, new bathrooms with running water, and refrigerators & large new TVs (something I don't even have in the city!) were quickly knocked off our list. Not surprisingly, these were often the homes of either family members of local officials or, in some cases, the officials themselves!

We will return next week to give out the cash to the first 120 households (in 3 out of the 8 village communities) that have been nominated, gone through our inspection, and qualify for the grant. We have another 180 households in the remaining 5 village communities with whom we have yet to go through the whole process with.

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