Once deemed 'uninhabitable', this small village in China is now thriving


A village in Xihaigu, an area in northwest China that was once declared “uninhabitable” by the United Nations, has attracted international acclaim because of its green transformation.

A representative of Longwangba Village in Guyuan City in Ningxia Hui, recently shared his recipe for success at the 60th International Agriculture Fair in Paris.

Jiao Jianpeng, deputy Party chief of Longwangba, brought local agricultural specialties to the exhibition, including wolfberries, millet, and parsley juice, as well as intangible cultural heritage products such as paper-cutting, shadow puppets, and facial makeup.

Parsley juice might not sound too appealing, but it found a fan in French consultant Daniel Vial. When Vial visited Jiao’s booth, he tried the juice, gave it a thumbs up and said, “Fantastic taste!”.

The exhibits were popular among visitors to the fair, with total sales surpassing CNY400,000 (RM260,735) in just a few days. Upon returning to China, Jiao still received purchase inquiries from French customers.

Not so long ago, Xihaigu, where Longwangba is located, was one of China’s most impoverished areas, with over 80% of people living under the poverty line during China’s early stage of reform and opening up.

In the water-starved Xihaigu area, the per capita water resources accounted for less than 8% of the national average level. It was declared as “uninhabitable” by UN experts in 1972.

The harsh natural conditions made surviving and thriving extremely difficult. But the ecological environment in Xihaigu has gradually improved because of a series of ecological protection initiatives, such as the Three-North Shelterbelt Forest Program. In Guyuan, the forest coverage rate has increased from 1.4% in the late 1970s to 27.28% in 2022.

China’s poverty alleviation efforts have also improved infrastructure in Longwangba, including roads, electricity, housing and access to clean water.

Based on the mountainous terrain, villagers have built terraced vegetable fields and oil peony farms. They have also constructed science and technology museums as well as traditional cave-dwelling hotels with local characteristics.

In 2023, Longwangba received more than 410,000 tourists, with a tourism revenue of CNY19.41mil (RM12.65mil). Through diversified development modes such as tourism and health and wellness, the villagers’ annual per capita disposable income has also grown.

From “uninhabitable” to “green, ecological and high-quality development”, Longwangba has become an epitome of China’s progress in poverty alleviation and rural revitalisation.

Longwangba’s story has been documented in Carnets De Chine (Wonderful Journey In China), a documentary jointly produced by Chinese and French media. It will be aired on leading French media France TV and TV5 Monde.

As the host of this documentary, French music blogger Alice Roche visited Longwangba village in June last year and experienced the local culture and learned the folk song Flower.

“The agricultural technology such as greenhouse cultivation is excellent. The tourism industry driven by cave-dwelling hotels is developing very well,” said Roche. “Local people work so hard to develop their hometown and never give up. It is really touching and admirable.”

Roche has now become one of the 88 “honorary villagers” of Longwangba, who come from various parts of the world and have contributed to the development of the village as well as its exchanges with the world.

“We aspire to present to the world not only the beautiful countryside of China, but also a commitment to resilience, innovation, openness and inclusiveness,” said Jiao. – Xinhua/Asia News Network

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