Hubei pig farmer considered one of the 'better off' but still left penniless

Despite finally hitting on a money maker, Fu Maoyan worries about his children's education and where he can borrow to expand pig farm

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 May, 2013, 7:09am

Fu Maoyan and his wife have been busy building a storehouse for pig feed beside their three pigsties.

The more than 80 pigs they raise and their pig feed business have made them better off than most households in Qingbao village in Hubei's mountainous Enshi autonomous prefecture.

Even so, they failed to make ends meet last year, earning about 10,000 yuan from their small business but spending more than 20,000 yuan on medical care for Fu's father and his funeral and caring for their sons, one aged 10 and the other two.

[Financial institutions have left] because it was not lucrative for them to stay

Their five-room, two-storey home stands among a cluster of ragged cement buildings at the foot of a mountain beside a river, alongside a bridge leading to the only cement road to the town centre. There are sacks of corn piled up in the central room and farming tools and other items on the second floor.

When then vice-premier Li Keqiang visited the house during a grass-roots inspection tour in December, after an earlier visit in 2008, he recognised it immediately, Fu said.

The 38-year-old said that even though his pig farm had expanded in the past couple of years, he was unable to decorate the house because all his spare money was spent supporting his parents and his growing boys.

Despite being one of the handful of "better-off" households in the village, according to neighbours, the Fus are about 50,000 yuan in debt.

"It's just borrowing money from here to repay the debt there," Fu said. "In fact I don't have a single cent. There are several dozen households in this small village, but it would be an optimistic estimate to say that eight to 10 are not in debt. Only a couple have any savings."

After Li's first visit to his home, Fu received a 500-yuan "youth entrepreneur award" from the township government.

He said the government gave him the award, which was also given to many local farmers who made money by raising sheep, growing tea or other activities, and for his unsuccessful attempt to raise snails in 2006, which left him 10,000 yuan in debt.

"They said that even though I didn't succeed, I had an entrepreneurial attitude," Fu said.

The government also built a bridge over the river beside his home. Villagers were previously unable to cross the river for more than a week during the summer floods, Fu said, calling the bridge "a special honour".

During Li's visit in December, Fu told him that three basic issues - water and electricity supplies and road access - had yet to be solved in the village.

Fu said he had gone to nearly every household in the neighbourhood to try to sell feed and more than two-thirds were at least one kilometre from the cement road.

He also asked Li to return again in five years and see if anything had changed, because "there had been barely any change after his first visit in 2008".

Li agreed after checking a nearby cornfield. "After returning from the field, he told accompanying cadres to implement the central governments' policies … he said there had been some change here, but it was not impressive," Fu said. "I think - it's just my guess - that he was not happy at that moment."

From the age of 16 until 2011, when he started raising pigs, Fu worked in coal mines across northern China and in neighbouring Chongqing municipality.

His business endeavours in Qingbao, before he began raising pigs, included driving tricycles to transport building materials in the late 1990s. All failed.

Now his biggest concerns are securing loans to expand his pig farm and pay for his younger son's education. Fu's elder son is studying at the local boarding school. Fu said that because he did not know any official willing to provide a guarantee, local banks refused to lend him more than 30,000 yuan.

Ge Hongwu , the deputy head of Longfeng township, which oversees Qingbao, said there used to be more grass-roots financial institutions, such as China Post and Savings Bank, in the area but they withdrew some years ago. "I guess it's because the turnover was small and it was not lucrative for them to stay here," Ge said.

Fu said he was concerned about his younger son's education, because the nearest kindergarten was 90 minutes' walk away, on a hilltop near the village committee office. There was only one bus that shuttled between the government office and the town centre, and while it passed by Fu's home, the schedule did not fit in with school hours.

"Financing and schooling are the two most important issues here," Fu said. "With those solved, we'd be happy to rely on ourselves to sort out the other problems."