05.11.2016 - Anlong
Due to unprecedented economic growth and an ever expanding population, China nowadays faces some severe environmental problems. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) like CURA in Chengdu have formed to search for solutions. In doing so, they have to overcome many challenges such as convincing policy-makers, building up trust between local farmers and creating awareness for the urgency of sustainability.
I spent one day with Mark from Canada who is working for CURA since 2011. We visited Anlong Sustainable Village, a model for a greener China. The result of their work is stunning: Organic food production without any waste. But despite of their success the existence of the village is threatened.
I meet Mark in front of a Starbucks coffee shop in Downtown Chengdu. Anlong village is situated about 40km to the west of the center and what better way to go there than on our bicycles? The pollution in the city is very bad today and the roads are as busy as always. Cars on the bicycle lanes, people standing on the middle of the street looking at their smartphones - nobody really cares about rules. 'China hasn't yet become a country of law', is Mark's observation.
After 20km we are surrounded by uncountable construction sites and empty apartment buildings. 'Chendu is changing constantly. Everytime I come here I can spot new buildings' says Mark, who is visiting Anlong once a month. And it is expanding. The needed land for the apartments is taken from the farmers who are guaranteed to get new flats if cooperating. However, if they are not cooperating their houses still get destroyed and they are left behind with nothing.
Once this region of China, the Sichuan basin, was called the breadbasket of China producing massive amounts of agricultural products. Now, with the cities expanding , the farmland is pushed back until it reaches the mountain ranges to the west. In the end, one of the most fertile regions of China has to import food due to the absence of farmland.
Before entering the village, Mark and I are having lunch in a restaurant. Mark starts explaining me the background of the Chengdu Urban Rivers Association (CURA) he is working for: In 1992, the Chengdu government launched a project to combat the severe contamination of the Funan River, a vital freshwater resource of the heavily populated Sichuan Basin. Despite tens of billions of dollar directed towards pollution management the Funan River Project didn't reach its goal. That was when CURA was formed to address this problem. Founded in June 2003, CURA soon pointed out that the pollution came from so-called non-point sources, meaning it is not one big factory that pollutes the rivers but all the farmers together. Since then CURA focused on the small villages upstream and worked together with the local farmers to make this area a healthier place. The sustainable village in Anlong is an example of a greener China.
We leave the main road and turn towards Anlong. The air suddenly gets a lot fresher as we cycle along the small streets of the village through abundant gardens. Our first stop is at the community center. A long wooden table surrounded by chairs, a blackboard and more utensiles help educating the villagers in how to grow organic food. The room smells like paint. 'We varnished this place one month ago - nothing ever dries in this damp climate', Mark states. Then he proudly shows me the toilets: Through a special design the fecies get separated from the urin which makes it easier to compost both excrement. And they are widely accepted between the villagers - everyone has one in his home.
The village seems empty. Most of the farmers are in the nearby city at CURA's headquarters where they listen to a talk about the empowerment of women in ecological farming. These educational trainings are another important part of CURA's work. 'In China people don't see the logical consequences of their actions. You can experience it everywhere in the streets', Mark explains me. 'Thus, it is important to make them aware about ecological matters. Once I explained the importance of the polar ice by telling the farmers to turn off their fridges for one day. When they saw their scruffy vegetables they understood for the first time the danger of global warming.'
We meet one farmer who didn't join the presentation today. He is preparing a meal on his gas stove. The stove runs on gas from his compost. The compost, in turn, contains fecies from the toilet as well as leftover food. Slowly I start to understand that the whole village is one big circular flow. Nothing gets wasted. Everything can be reused.
A human settlement adapted to nature. One more example for this are the small wetlands that you can find throughout the village. After taking a shower or using the sink the dirty water runs into a pool with plants in it. From there it flows through some more pools until it is clean enough to lead it back into the river. 'And it works! We ran some scientific tests on the water and the results were positive.'
Our last stop is a painted wall where all the sustainable processes of Anlong village are summed up in one big picture. The organic farming, the composting, the wetlands and the shared transport of products to the city. It's the end of an interesting day and I learned a lot of new things from Mark. Anlong village, as a trailblazer for sustainability, is an important place, not just for China. But its further existence is not guaranteed - the Chinese government wants Chengdu to accomodate up to 33 million people during the next years. This would mean the city would double in size! Anlong and all the other villages would have to vanish.