Rural Entrepreneuses Make Good


Zhao Qiju, Shi Mingying and Shi Linfen are local heroines in Gaozhai Village of Pingba County, under the jurisdiction of Anshun City in Guizhou Province. The prosperity they have achieved through cultivating roxburgh rose (Rosa roxburghii tratt) has inspired a folk song popular among local farmers. This triumvirate of entrepreneuses is regarded as a paradigm for local potential business women.

Starting Up

Zhao Qiju, Shi Mingying and Shi Linfen left farming years ago to establish independent careers. Zhao was a village cadre in charge of women’s affairs, Shi Mingying ran a thriving poultry breeding business, and Shi Linfen was a skilled beauty therapist.

A local news item broadcast on an evening back in October 2011, when the three friends had their periodical get-together, sparked their entrepreneurial enthusiasm. Anshun City’s plan to develop local characteristic farm products and promote cultivation of roxburgh rose – a juicy fruit rich in multiple vitamins and Superoxide Dismutase (SOD), an enzyme that repairs and makes cells resistant to damage – gave them the idea of starting a roxburgh rose cultivation cooperative.

Upon hearing that they intended to give up their careers and return to farming, fellow villagers thought the three women had lost their minds. The trio was nonetheless determined to set an example to fellow rural women of prospering from farming.

Zhao Qiju, Shi Mingying and Shi Linfen lost no time in organizing visits for local women to roxburgh rose orchards in neighboring villages. The clusters of this golden fruit that greeted them bolstered their confidence in the project’s bright prospects. Soon after, they set up their own farm.

Obstacles and Impediments

The first hurdle the three women had to clear was that of obtaining the rights to use around 200 mu of farmland (1 ha. = 15 mu) from 103 farming households. Farmers in China have contractual rights over their land that empower them, if they so choose, to transfer the rights of use to other farmers or economic entities while retaining their original contractual rights. Zhao Qiju, Shi Mingying and Shi Linfen needed a considerable area of land to establish the roxburgh rose cooperative. Their efforts to persuade local farmers to transfer to it their land-use rights took a month of daily footslogging, often until midnight. Impressed with their sincerity and single-mindedness, many farmers agreed. The women were thus able to plant fruit trees on the 242-mu land they had acquired for this purpose.

Funding was the next challenge. The indomitable trio needed more than RMB 100,000 for infrastructure investment, around RMB 150,000 to cover annual labor costs, and RMB 80,000 for land use. They pooled their family savings, including the proceeds of selling their gold jewelry, and also borrowed from friends and relatives. Help from the local women’s federation, which gave them a small secured-loan, and the local industrial and commercial administration authorities that provided small business subsidies, enabled them to eventually surmount these financial obstacles.

To save labor costs, Zhao Qiju, Shi Mingying and Shi Linfen did as much of the groundwork as possible. This included pushing wheelbarrows full of fertilizer, carrying pails of water and moving 20-kg kegs of pesticide, on average 40 kegs per person each day – all generally regarded as men’s tasks. They labored from dawn to dusk, by which time they were almost dropping with exhaustion. The efforts of this valiant trio saved a considerable sum in labor costs and earned them the admiration of villagers working at the cooperative.

Common Prosperity

It is commonplace in today’s China for rural communities to consist mainly of children and seniors, because adults of working age go to find employment in cities. The women left to look after their grandchildren are generally aged 50 and upwards. Too old to be migrant workers and with no way of enriching themselves on their home ground, they are trapped in economic limbo. Job opportunities at the roxburgh rose cooperative, however, enabled them to earn wages while taking care of their grandchildren.

Zhu Shixiu, a 58-year-old “empty-nester,” has worked for the cooperative for one year. Her yearly income of RMB 4,000 or more has enabled her to buy a TV set and a refrigerator. “By employing us despite our age the three women that started the cooperative have enabled us to earn money and so ease the financial burden of raising grandchildren. This has helped us make our families better off, so we owe them a lot,” Zhu said.

The cooperative’s success has inspired local woman villagers to the extent that 30 or more have returned from their migrant labors to become part of it. The number of households with so-called “left-behind children” is hence falling.

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