China, UN Launch “Green” Project to Alleviate Poverty

In November, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), in cooperation with China’s Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) and the China International Center for Economic and Technical Exchanges under the Ministry of Commerce, initiated a four-year project on “Green Poverty Reduction in China.”

The project aims to use environmentally friendly technologies to help poorer residents of five western provinces boost their livelihoods, gain access to energy services, and protect fragile local ecosystems. The total budget for the project is estimated at nearly US$8.6 million, with some US$2.3 million provided by UNDP and the rest funded by MOST and local governments, according to China Daily. The project includes three distinct initiatives and gives priority to ethnic minority communities living in mountainous and remote areas of Guizhou, Sichuan, Xinjiang, and Yunnan provinces and Inner Mongolia. Farmers living along the high-altitude border of Guizhou, Sichuan, and Yunnan provinces, for example, will learn how to cultivate the oil-rich seeds of Jatropha curcas, a wild tree commonly used as a hedge, to produce biodiesel and create a new energy market. After the oil is extracted, the jatropha seed cake is also rich in nutrients that are essential to the fertility of the soil; therefore, large-scale cultivation of the tree can both provide a sustainable energy source and prevent soil erosion and desertification of local farmland. According to project coordinator Yunsong Xu, the goal is to expand the current area of nearly 27,000 hectares of jatropha trees to more than 270,000 hectares by 2012, boosting local household incomes by an estimated 500-700 yuan (US$64-89) annually. The project will also set up associations to coordinate local farmers and create new enterprises to explore the market potential for renewable energy, Xinhua News reported. A second initiative of the Green Poverty Reduction Project will be expanding the cultivation of Jarrah Dayun, a raw material for traditional medicine, in northwest Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, to an area of 600 hectares and covering 1,000 households. The third main project activity will be providing small-scale wind turbines to herdsmen in the Inner Mongolia area. An important goal of the new project, according to Alessandra Tisot, senior deputy resident representative of UNDP, is to foster the potential of green industries to reduce poverty in remote mountain or desert areas, bringing win-win solutions for both poverty and environmental degradation. Measurable outcomes of the initiative are expected to include identifying the appropriate “products and production models” to fit China’s underdeveloped areas and improving the local energy supply to generate more income and employment opportunities. The experiences of the project will be shared and extended across the country. Previous poverty reduction efforts in China have illustrated the extreme difficulty of balancing environmental protection with local income improvement, an official with the Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development of the State Council (China’s parliament) noted. Unlike earlier projects, however, this new one aims to use a participatory model for poverty reduction, relying on green technology, developing renewable energy through local sources, and directly involving farmers while encouraging them to realize their rights to become better off — all of which aim to promote development in the region.

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