OTHER THEMES IN SW COLLECTION
culture and customs
employment and income
THEMES IN NE COLLECTION
culture and customs
introducing the china collections
food security in the southwest collection
Several older narrators have vivid memories of extreme poverty and hunger. One 52-year-old woman (China 9) says her only memories of childhood are about lack of food: "[When I was young] I only remember that we were short of grain; we poor people worked in the landlords' home but they gave us only 6 jin (3 kilo) of cereal per day… I used a special bench and stood on it so that I could reach up to pound the rice. Life was very difficult. Now when I recall it my tears are ready to fall…" Her poor diet has not only left her with chronic health problems but also a life-long fear of suffering the same way again. She attributes improved living standards to political changes, but adds "we are just afraid that the policy will change in the future… We have a fear of experiencing hunger again."
There is general agreement that people's food supplies have improved since the household responsibility system was introduced, and several mention how certain development initiatives, including the use of plastic sheeting, have boosted production. Nevertheless, families in many areas still have several months a year without grain, and it seems that it does not take much to tip some people into serious difficulties. The same narrator (China 9) recalls how one year her father (who had abandoned her family when she was small) came to visit with his second wife. The extra mouths to feed quickly consumed the remaining grain she and her husband had successfully harvested, and for two months they "had to go to other places to dig up roots to eat".
Several women stress how vulnerable their localities are to bad weather, which can have a huge impact on food stocks. One woman who struggles to make ends meet, raises pigs to help cover education costs. But in the year of her interview she had to sell all her animals to buy rice because "flood, drought and windstorm" had destroyed much of their own crop production, crops she might have exchanged for rice (China 2).
quotes about food security
"No, [the villagers do] not [have] sufficient [grain]. Only three or four families have enough grain as food. Basically, 80 per cent of this village doesn't have enough grain."
Mingchun, 27/M, Oxfam extension worker, Miao, China 18
"…the grain was not sufficient to eat in the past. We had to dig up tree roots, cut edible wild plants and the stems of banana trees for food. Now I have persistent stomach ache. It is because I ate too much of wild plants and banana stems. When I look back at life in the past, my head aches and I feel dizzy."
Yeai, 52/F, Wa, China 9
"I usually went with a group of 10 or so to collect the edible wild herbs. We boiled them with one liang (50 grams) of rice as rice soup, as our meals. The same wild herb plant would be picked three times. I picked the first time, she picked the second time, and then I picked it again. You couldn't pick any more from it after the third time as you had reached the roots. We lived like that. Later came the commune system, we worked together and shared food, and eventually we had rice to eat…"
Natuo, 80/F, Lahu, China 15
"[After childbirth I was ill.] My husband said he did not have money. My parents…didn't have enough grain to feed the pigs…My parents got me one and half jin of meat for several meals, [the meat was] no bigger than a thumb for one meal… How could we have chickens? How could we have eggs? Where could you get rice to feed the chickens? How could we have rice? It was regarded as the good life if we had corn to eat."
Meixin, 45/F, Yao, China 2