Our Programme Foci
Ecological Agriculture
Where We Work: Guizhou

Trendy Guys Raise Ducks

By Zhong Shengzhi (Assistant Programme Officer, Guizhou Office, PCD)

For the last seven years[1] Liufang Village has been doing organic farming, the Liufang Society of Organic Agriculture has been conscientiously practising organic farming so as to perpetuate such long-developed agrarian culture of the ethnic minority group Dong inhabiting Liufang. What is necessary in organic agriculture is not pure talk but a large amount of labour. Liufang is located in Liping County in Guizhou Province. Most of the young people have left the village to work in the city. Only the “386199 brigade” is left behind (38 means women, 61 means children and 99 means the elderly people). In the face of such a difficult and awkward situation and sensing a crisis, the president of the Liufang village’s Society of Organic Agriculture (henceforth referred to as “the president”) has been in a pensive mood. After a few years of hard work to build its name, Liufang is now well known to the outside world for its organic agriculture. However, the village has actually been facing a major crisis because of the lack of labour. During festivals, the village particularly feels like it is languishing because the young people are not around. The young people only return from all over the country during Chinese New Year. Only then is the village bustling with noise and excitement. The elderly people will smile and the children will jump with joy… but only in this rather short holiday will the village return to its former life of happiness.

Starting a venture in the home village and winning over the parents’ support

Laoxiao and Yungui, who are just over 20, came home from Zhejiang during Chinese New Year. Laoxiao looks bashful with his big tummy. Wearing a business suit and leather shoes, Laoxiao has the manner of a business owner. Even though he is barely out of his teens, he appears to be very mature and sedate. Always smiling, Yungui has a baby face that looks as though he will never mature. However, in his eyes there is an expression of manly fortitude. During Chinese New Year, the two of them did not spend their time eating, drinking or having fun at one banquet after another. Instead they sneaked to Dengxie Pond at the back of the village to study the place. Weeds were growing thickly and one-third of the pond was covered by weeds. After studying the place meticulously, they went home, prepared a table of special New Year dishes and filled glasses with mellow rice wine. The whole family sat down, ate and drank together. The happy and harmonious atmosphere filled everyone with joy.

After a few rounds of drink, Laoxiao and Yungui told the family that they wanted to raise ducks at Dengxie Pond. Everyone fell silently instantly. Even though the village has become quiet in recent years as young people leave for work in the city, from the perspective of economic gain, most villagers think that working in the city brings more stable income. In addition, work in the city means no more of the hardships of farm work and an urban lifestyle that arouses envy when one returns to the village during the Chinese New Year… The two of them told their parents: “The way we dress is just the surface. Actually we work day and night in the city and there’s no rest day at all. The mood of the business owner changes constantly. When he is unhappy, he will bawl at us and curse us. Because of this, Yungui and I have long had the idea of coming home to raise ducks. Apart from raising ducks, we can also do some farming for our parents. In this way, the whole family can stay together, take care of each other and eat at the same table. This is the only way to live as Dongs [2]…” That evening, their parents told them to shelve their idea and not think about it until later. Seeing their reactions, Laoxiao and Yungui knew that their parents were not going to support them but they were determined to persist and to try to convince them.

Support from the president indispensable

Laoxiao’s father talked to Yungui’s father. They both thought they had to stop their sons from coming home to raise ducks. Using their power as fathers, they told their sons vehemently: “Don’t do anything we do not allow you to do. Without your family’s support, whatever you do would fail. You must listen to us and go to Jiejiang tomorrow…!” Feeling down, Laoxiao and Yungui were very upset and could not stop sighing. As though it was the will of God, they wandered to Dengxie Pond and met Jiankang with his camera. Jiankang is a person who cannot bear seeing his friends feeling down. “Come, let’s drink at my place,” he said. Wensi and Laoxian heard about it and joined them. Jiankang’s father is the one who leads the village in practising organic farming. He is an assiduous person and is always ready to lend a helping hand. He is the president of the Society of Organic Agriculture. He knows that young people are the strongest backbone of their village, so he is always talking to them.

As they were drinking and eating, Laoxiao sighed and told the others the whole story about their plan to come home to raise ducks. He was about to drink another mouthful of wine when Jiankang’s father stopped him and said: “Your parents have every reason to stop you, but you mustn’t waver in your decision! It’s not easy to be so determined and to have the idea to return home to start a new venture! I support you! If you are really determined to do it, I can talk with your families! Now our village is mainly involved in producing green products. If you could raise local ducks at Dengxie, they would be organic ducks. They could be marketed together with our organic rice. In this way we could build up a brand name together in the market for organic agricultural products . This venture has a future. On behalf of our society, I pledge to support you with 100 ducklings!” The young people were moved and grasped the hands of the president saying: “Yes, from now on Dengxie will be our home! We will raise ducks!” At that moment, Jiankang stood up and said: “This is going to be a new trend, a new model. Nowadays you’ve got to have your own style if you are going to raise ducks. I think you should simply call yourselves the Trendy Guys Duck Raising Team!” Everyone laughed at once.

The next day, the president visited the families of the “trendy guys” and told them that it was a progressive phenomenon that young people come home to start their ventures and it was an inevitable trend. As parents they should think in terms of long-term gains, sustainable development, the future value of organic products and the Dong’s cultural heritage, etc. He stressed that everyone in the village should give strong support to the young people. If they succeed, they would set an example for other young people and would attract them to come home to start their own ventures as well. Listening to the president, the parents of Laoxiao and Yungui opened up to the idea. They scratched their heads, laughed and replied: “That’s true. Since they are so determined, and since both the society and the village support them, there’s no reason for us not to give our support!” Shi Changyin, the village party secretary, was an enthusiastic cadre. When he heard that the trendy guys were going to raise ducks, not only did he support their plan, he was also willing to give 200 yuan to show the support of the village party committee.

There is an old Dong saying: “Drink wine and eat meat in the first days of the New Year. Take up the hoe after the fifteenth.” The four young men started to work after the Lantern Festival. Even though the water was still ice cold, they rolled up their trousers, got into the pond and cleared the wood debris around the pond. Thanks to the four young men the pond became sparkling clean. Seeing what they did, others in the village said: Nowadays young people only want to enjoy themselves and do not want to do any kind of hard and dirty labour. Because of their dedication to their work, we see the future and hope for our village!

When it was time to sow grain seeds, the trendy guys followed the traditional way of raising ducks and started to feed ducklings. In addition to the 100 local ducklings given to them by the president, they got another 200 ducklings themselves. That meant there were 300 in all. The four of them nursed the ducklings in the nursing room with great care. They often got up a number of times in the night to look at the ducklings. Laoxiao, who was really fat, has become one size smaller. He teases himself saying that raising ducks is the best way to lose weight.

Work steadfastly in pursuit of dreams

On the day the ducks were to go into the water, the four trendy guys went to the hair dresser and got the same haircut. They intended to look like Ultraman, instead they looked like Donald Duck. They brought all their four computers to the office and connected them to the net service of the village. As they fed the ducks with care, they studied on the internet about duck-raising. Whenever they fed the ducks, they would play “Younger Sister is in Another Village as a Stranger”, a grand Dong song sung by men. After a while, whenever this song was played, the ducks would all come at once. It was a particularly lovely scene. In the evening, the four of them would sit on the edge of the pond watching the ducks swimming here and there. A feeling of happiness surged in them. So much hardship accompanied by hope. As the ducklings grew, their dreams also grew day by day. Their pale faces became tanned in the sun. Calluses formed on their hands which became coarse and large. Laoxiao no longer wore a business suit. He worked everyday at the edge of the pond in casual clothes.

To meet the standards for organic ducks, the trendy guys never gave their ducks commercial feed. Instead each of them brought a thousand catties of organic grain. The grains were then ground and fed to the ducks. Since no commercial feed was used, the ducks grew slowly. The trendy guys were not influenced by the idea that ducks grow more quickly if they eat commercial feed. They have stuck to their own beliefs and the cost they pay is almost 50% more than others.

Setting an example for young people

Hearing that trendy guys are raising ducks, some young people in the village became restless while others simply looked on. If the trendy guys succeeded, other young people would definitely join in. The president was particularly concerned about the reactions of other young people. The meaning behind the trendy guys’ venture was not only making a profit. What was more important was to attract more young people to come home and start their own ventures. This was something of great importance to the whole village. And sure enough, some young people anticipated a bright future and could not hold back any longer. They promptly resigned from their work in the city and came home. They visited Dengxue to learn from the trendy guys and then visited the president for his support. No sooner did they return to the village than a Linxia Chicken Raising Youth Team was set up. Jiankang too could not resist the temptation of starting a business in animal husbandry. He found some partners and they got a place to start their own venture. A while ago they held a feast and opened a chicken farm in the bamboo wood next to the village.

The head of the society said with a smile: “The National Development and Reform Commission came to Liufang this year to study our organic rice. They have expressed their approval for Liufang’s organic rice because it means hope for the people in earning more income. I hope not only rice will be organic in Liufang. I hope that all our agricultural products will be organic and that Liufang will gain initial success in building a brand name for organic products. I hope that not only outsiders flock for our products, but local people also realise the importance of conserving our land and protecting the natural environment. I hope Liufang Village will become an organic village not only in name but also in reality.” He added that he had visited the CEO of Xingli Department Store in Guiyang who agreed to bring a hundred of his staff to Liufang to examine the quality of the organic products. Xingli has decided to sign a contract with Liufang to purchase organic products from the village on a long-term basis. A CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) production and marketing model is now established and more young people will be attracted to come home to start new ventures. He predicted that half of the young people who came home would start their own business in organic farming and animal husbandry next year. So long as young people come home, there will be hope for agricultural development and the culture of the Dong people will have a better chance of being passed on. Liufang Village will become an example for neighbouring villages, which will hopefully be encouraged to join in the organic farming and bring back genuine Dong villages.

All these remind me of the saying--“A little spark can set the prairie ablaze.”

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Trendy guy, Laoxiao, giving water to the ducks.
Laoxiao (left) and Yungui introduce their plan to raise ducks to PCD staff.
Laoxiao mixes rice bran to feed the ducks.

 


 

  1. Since 2005, PCD has been collaborating with the Institute of Natural Resources and Environment of Guizhou University to restore traditional organic agriculture in Liufang Village. The current partner of this initiative is the Liping Ethnic Affairs Bureau.
  2. Rice-duck-fish integrated farming is the most essential part of Dong people’s agrarian culture. This triggers the saying of “Dong can’t separate from fish” and “Dong can’t separate from ducks”.

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