Saturday Features

A fine balance

  • The successful agro-tourism experiment in Xingfu, in Sichuan, suggests that ‘prosperity’ can be created not by casting off traditional ways for the new, but rather by finding a blend of the two
- Anuj Kumar Adhikari
Since it opened in 2016, more than 300,000 tourists have streamed into Xingfu wanting to catch a glimpse of the traditional Chinese way of life, increasing the income of each household by 30 percent on average

Jun 16, 2018-Although China seems set to become the world’s most dominant economy, it faces a growing income disparity between the rich and the poor. The booming economy has lead to uneven development between peoples and regions as is evident in the considerable development gap between the eastern part of China, which has been the focus of development, and the topographically-challenged western China. While many of the residents of east China now have access to the luxuries of modern lifestyle, those in the west, by contrast, continue to struggle. With that said, this gulf in prosperity is slowly being bridged through innovative new programmes.

One such effort can be seen at the ancient village of Xingfu in Danling County of China’s southwestern Sichuan Province. Sichuan province acts as a bridge between the ‘developed’ China and ‘developing’ China. Sichuan, often known as ‘land of abundance’, is a mountainous and diverse region that has relatively well developed urban clusters. Now, the development of its ancient villages like Xingfu, which are situated in difficult terrain, is being touted as a successful model that could be expanded throughout western China, and places with similar topography in other parts of the world as well.

Although located in a hilly area, at a distance of 110 km from Chengdu—the Capital city of Sichuan, Xingfu is now connected by a well-built road that not only gives the villagers access to easy movement but has also created an influx of tourists. As a result, Xingfu’s economy has now once again been connected to the world at large, as it once was as part of the ancient Silk and Horse Road.

One important aspect of Xingfu village’s economy is the blend of agriculture and tourism. As soon as one steps into this village of 200 people—situated in a small bowl like tract of habitable land in the middle of dense forests—one can feel the change in landscape. Away from the mega-structures of the cities, tourists can enjoy the relics of ancient China displayed in the traditional houses and the warm hospitality of the villagers. The houses in Xingfu are traditionally built and beautifully designed, some even dating back to Tang and Song dynasties—making the time spent here akin to a time warp.

Here, in order to develop the village which had an agro-based economy until 2014, the Chinese government launched an ambitious plan to transform it into a tourist attraction. As a result, more than 10 million Yuan ($1.5 million) was invested in the village for water supply systems, paved stone roads and power grids. And since it opened for tourism in 2016, more than 300,000 tourists have streamed in hoping to catch a glimpse of the traditional Chinese way of life, increasing the income of each household by 30 percent on average. This is because apart from uplifting the façade of the village, the development model has given villagers an alternative source of income, in addition to their agricultural yields. Earlier, villagers struggled to market their produce in the city, but now with the continuous inflow of tourists, they can sell their produces within the village itself. Farmers can generate an income of up to 30,000 Yuan ($4,600) each year by selling their plum, peach, orange or tea cultivated in the region in village markets that are immensely popular with the mostly-urbane tourists.

Furthermore, in this tourism model, the inns which provide accommodation to visitors are operated by private companies, while the catering is provided by the host village. This means that tourists can feast on authentic traditional cuisines and not hotel-made imitations. Curiously, the village spanning over a land of 10 square kilometers hosts only eight people each per night in their traditional inns. According to the locals, the limited number of night-stays has been consciously implemented to maintain Xingfu quiet, natural setting.

In addition to boosting the local economy and injecting new life in these once sparsely-habituated villages, the development model has also contributed to a new wave of returnee migrants coming back to their roots. Young people in their thirties who had once left the village for coastal areas to work have started returning to their homes to cash in on the opportunities now available there. This has been further catalsyed by the governmental policy barring outsiders from migrating to the village. The existing villagers are, however, allowed to open inns provided that they meet the stipulated standards.

This blend of agriculture and tourism is not only limited to Xingfu village of Sichuan Province alone. Numerous other provinces too have adopted such a model, showing that it can be adapted specifically to a region or location. For example, Nan Qiang and Sha Mei model villages in Boao City of Hainan province also have economies primarily composed of agriculture and tourism. The dinosaur-themed paddy field in Sanya City of Hainan province provides a unique experience to tourists while also serving as a site that cultivates artificially enhanced paddy seeds. The Zhong Liao village in Sanya offers cultural activities and dances, in addition of offering a chance to observe farmers at work. This, in turn, has not only helped in boosting the economic development, but has kept the cultural heritage and the history of the villages intact.

As you visit these revitalised rural villages, you can’t help but wonder if similar initiatives can be tailored to suit Nepal’s own innumerable, unique villages that are replete with layers of history and cultural identities. With our own tryst with rural development going awry under the weight of sluggish mega projects, it is worth ruminating if the much-touted ‘prosperity’ can be ushered in not by casting off traditional ways for the new, but rather by finding a midway that blends the two instead. 

Published: 16-06-2018 09:35

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