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Coming Home – The impact of bamboo on the migrant workers from Chishui

Stories
24Aug

“40 per cent of migrant workers in Guangdong are coming home to Chishui; three quarters of the returnees are involved in the bamboo sector” – the new phenomenon of urban-rural migration in China’s bamboo heartland

Bamboo has always been an integral part of Chinese culture, traditions and the economy. As a world leader in utilising bamboo for a varied number of products, the bamboo sector in China has grown to approximately 30 billion USD by 2015.

From highways that connect vast distances to railroads and burgeoning cities that witnessed awe inspiring creation of skyscrapers – China had seen a massive population shift due to growing demand for workers in the country’s growing cities. Workers from various parts of the China often left their home town to toil away on lands far from what they called home.

There are some stories worth mentioning that otherwise get lost in the barrage of data and social analysis on migration. One of these concerns Yin Huabing from Chishui.

Yin Huabing worked as a migrant worker in Guangdong province of China, but returned to his home in rural Chishui to take advantage of the booming bamboo growth in the region.

The rolling hills that form an integral part of the incredible landscapes of Chishui are lush with bamboo. The mixed bamboo forests of Chishui have nearly 300 species of bamboo. The region has seen a growth in bamboo sector development and growing interest of the native population in harnessing the economic potential of bamboo. A number of farmers have now shifted to growing bamboo for a variety of purposes – scaffolds, floorings, furniture, edible shoots, handicrafts, paper, bamboo juice and drinks along with bamboo charcoal among other things.

With the rise in opportunities Yin Huabing traversed back to Chishui from Guangdong province to lead and manage the Aihua chip mill in Bing’an Town located in Chishui County. Nestled within the hills of the region this chip mill creates 100 tons of bamboo chips in a single day! Over a period of one year the chip mill produces approximately 18 thousand tons of bamboo chips. The chips produced are sent to a local bamboo paper pulp company also located in Chishui. For the bamboo paper pulp industry the farmers focus on growing four sympodial bamboos due to its high biomass and great fiber quality.

This bamboo paper pulp company boasts an impressive facility and could very well be the largest industrial unit of this kind in the world. The production value for the last year (2015) averaged at 5 million RMB for the chips mill. Consuming about 8000 tons of 4 sympodial bamboos; all of this raw material for the chips mill comes from Chishui itself. Half of all the raw material supplied to the chips mill comes from individual farmers living in Bing’an town. However there are opportunities for increasing the local raw material supplies through better bamboo growth and management. Apart from offering better growth opportunities and sound economic support to Yin Huabing the bamboo chip mill also offers employment to 7 onsite workers, 3 teams of 40 plus workers each for optimal harvesting of bamboo and 300 farmers who are involved in the supply chain for managing bamboo forests along with people employed for transportation of the raw material and the chips. Although this chip mill has performed exceedingly well there are a few challenges that need to be addressed. The primary hindrance to the chips mill is gaining access to the raw material, currently only 40% of bamboo forests are within reach due to the lack of a well-developed road system. Apart from this training of farmers for better bamboo management is essential for improving the output of the lands utilised for the growth of bamboo.

The local government and relevant authorities are working to improve the road systems and aim to build more than 2000 kilometers of roads within the area thus allowing for better access to the bamboo forests. The most striking point of the bamboo sector development in Chishui was stated by Yin Huabing who said, “40 per cent of the migrant workers in Guangdong are coming home to Chishui; three quarters of the returnees are involved in the bamboo sector.” This statement was further corroborated by the local Forest Bureau.

This development is an outstanding example of reverse migration and could be a glimpse into the future of China and bamboo.