New roads build paths to prosperity

Publish Time: 2020-08-05 Author: Zhang Wenfang From: China Daily

An aerial view of a village, surrounded by mountains, in the Aba Tibetan and Qiang autonomous prefecture, Sichuan province, in June. Many homestays with Tibetan features were built in the village to boost tourism and lift locals out of poverty. SHEN BOHAN/XINHUA

In a remote Sichuan province's prefecture, villagers have been lifted out of poverty by improvements to transport infrastructure. Zhang Wenfang reports from Aba.

As dawn broke on the western plateau in Sichuan province, Sanga and his family began to milk yaks that had been roaming in an alpine meadow.

Before the blazing sun hit its peak at noon, the herder, in his 50s, had returned home in his van with nearly 300 yuan (42 USD) after selling 20 liters of fresh yak milk in Nandamu township 30 kilometers away.

Two years ago, it would have taken him the entire day to make the round trip and the yak milk would have fetched less money.

Sanga lives in Wukeji village, Shangduke township, in Zamtang county of the Aba Tibetan and Qiang autonomous prefecture. Nandamu township is the nearest and most important market town for the herders.

Shangduke is set in alpine meadows, while Nandamu is located at the foot of a mountain. For years, the only access between the two townships was via a narrow meandering path.

When the herders wanted to sell their yak milk, meat and butter, they had to travel on horseback along a mountain trail, or make a 70 km detour traveling on an asphalt road through Zamtang county.

"It took me five to six hours ride by horse to reach the town to sell milk. The price was 4 yuan for a half liter," said Sanga, who goes by only one name.

"Cheap prices were offered to us because the buyers knew that we had come a long way and if we didn't sell the milk, we wouldn't find any other buyers in time. The milk could go off and we might not make anything."

In October and September, the herders also drove yaks down the mountain to sell at market, which was a day's journey, Sanga said. Money had to be spent on accommodation and fodder if the herders had to wait for buyers, he said.

A villager walks on an asphalt road in Xiaojin county, Aba, Sichuan, in January. LI MENGXIN/XINHUA

Headed to market

However, travel between the two townships became much easier when a 34-km paved road was completed last month.

The winding road drops from an altitude of 4,200 meters to 3,500 meters and connects 2,300 herders living in three villages to the trading township below.

"The travel time has been cut to a 30-minute drive by van," said He Dongming, deputy director of the transport bureau of the county."The milk is fresher when transported down the hill, so the sale price for milk has increased from 4 yuan to 7 yuan for a half liter."

He said it was no longer a buyer's market and if the herders were unhappy about prices offered for their products they could simply take them back home. The herders can also travel to other townships in the county to seek better prices for their products and customers can drive up the mountain and buy produce and goods directly.

"The passive role of our herdsmen has completely changed," He said.

With an investment of 50 million yuan, road construction began in 2018 as part of the Ministry of Transport's poverty eradication plan aimed at improving infrastructure in Zamtang county.

Since 2009, the Ministry of Transport has invested 2.14 billion yuan in targeted poverty relief efforts for the prefecture's Xiaojin, Zamtang and Heishui counties, and Sertar county in the Garze Tibetan autonomous prefecture, building 127 roads covering 1,440 km.

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