Across China, April is tea-harvesting time. Women from the Fuxing Tea Farmers’ Cooperative
are busy plucking spring tea leaves. This is the first farmers’ cooperative founded
with support from a rural development project by the World Bank in Guizhou, one of China’s
poorest provinces. Growing tea provides jobs and a source of
income for rural women who stay behind to take care of their families while their husbands
migrate to work in cities. The women are paid a piece rate for plucking
tea. “I work about seven to ten hours a day and
can pluck about nine kilograms of white tea.” During the tea harvesting season, Xu earns
5,000 to 6,000 yuan (US$740 to $890) a month, which helps pay for her two children’s living
expenses in school. A grant from the project helped the co-op
expand its tea processing factory, buy new machinery, and open a tea shop downtown, developing
a whole value chain. A new road, field footpaths and irrigation
works improved production conditions. Systems were established for membership assembly,
board of directors, board of supervisors, financial management, and profit distribution. Farmers joined the co-op by converting their
land use rights into shares. They are paid a salary for working in the
tea plantation, as well as a dividend in proportion to the shares they own. “We paid a dividend of 405 yuan (US$60)
per mu (1/15 hectare) of land last year. Our next step is to improving sales. More sales will bring more income and higher
dividend for our members.” The Changlong Farmers’ Cooperative grows
Gastrodia elata, or Tian Ma in Chinese, a traditional medical herb that treats convulsion,
hypertension, dizziness and headaches. Fan Ling is one of 40 workers in the co-op’s
factory, which was expanded and upgraded with project funding. Each month she earns 2,600 yuan (US$384). “My two kids are both in high school. I used to work far away from home and it was
difficult to take care of my parents when they were sick. Now I work close to home. We can grow Tian Ma and work in the factory.” The co-op made its first dividend payment
in 2018. “We pay dividends in several ways – on the
basis of the number of shares a member owns, the amount of Tian Ma and mushroom sold to
the co-op, the profit earned from the processed products, and salaries for working in the
factory.” Last year, Hu Maofen harvested and sold 100
kilograms of Tian Ma. This, together with her dividend and salary
from the factory, amounted to more than 20,000 yuan (US$2,956). “Joining the co-op has increased our income. We don’t need to depend on my children and
can live on our own. Our life is getting better and better.”