China is often described as a country with a gigantic growth rate and amazing economic results. However, although Eastern parts of the country seem to benefit from this growth, the Western provinces are part of this “Chinese miracle”. Ningxia, a small rural province rarely visited by tourists, is one of them.
THE PROVINCE OF NINGXIA
The province of Ningxia is located around 1000km (20 hours by train) from Beijing. It is one of the five autonomous regions of China inhabited by a significant percentage of people belonging to a specific ethnic group. The Hui people – Chinese Muslims – account for 20% of Ningxia’s population.
Ningxia has an area of 66,400 km2, making it one of the smallest provinces in China. It is characterised by high plateaus, mountainous areas and desert in the North. Even though the Yellow River flows through a vast area of its land, Ningxia is threatened by desertification, which endangers its principal economic activity: agriculture. The region has a continental climate: winters are long and harsh, temperatures being always below zero and even reaching -30° on some occasions. Summers are short and hot, with extreme temperatures around 40°.
The population of Ningxia is just over 6 million, of whom 63% live in rural areas. The average annual income per capita is 1,788 RMB in the countryside, compared to 42,789 RMB in Shanghai.
We work in the county of Tongxin, in the arid part of the province. Rainfall there is less than 300mm a year and 88% of the land suffers from erosion. More than two thirds of the county’s population depend on agriculture to make a living, even if droughts are a recurrent threat.
We work mainly with poor farming families subsiting on their meagre crop harvest. In most of these families, one parent has to go to cities in other provinces to find work, becoming a migrant worker and leaving their home for several months. It is also common for at least one family member to suffer from an illness or disability. The majority of the families we are helping are also severely indebted.
Sources: China.org, China Climate Change Partnership Framework, Population Reference Bureau