Once a month, a group of women dressed in the Miao ethnicity’s traditional dresses and their hair pinned-up in a bun enters the farmer’s market in the city of Kunming in South China. They come from Heinigou, a mountain village around 50 kilometers away from Kunming. One of them is Long Xingmei who shows us how she lives from 2000 m² of arable land. Just like most people in the Heinigou village, Long Xingmei identifies with the ethnic group of Miao, one of the 55 official minority groups recognized by the government of China.
The village Heinigou is residence of the Miao people, with 74 households and in total 243 inhabitants. Most of them are small scale farmers and sell their ecologically grown vegetables and some traditional local products at the farmers’ market in Kunming. The farmers’ market usually is the only way to generate an income for them. Long Xingmei sells the surplus produce of her farm land at the market. What’s more, she uses it as an opportunity to do something completely else. She is the leader of a group that performs traditional Miao’s songs and dances at the market. Long Xingmei is forty-three years old and she is the elected speaker of the women living in Heinigou village. She has two children, her daughter is married to a man in another village and her son is about to become a cook.
Long Xingmei is the head of her family. She runs the family’s farm land and determines which crops to plant and how to sell them. Long Xingmei is deeply in love with her land, and she feels that the land itself is of great importance to farmers. She says, in past centuries Miao women would always hide some seeds in their hair so that no matter where they went, they would be able to support themselves. Therefore, Miao women wear their pinned-up hair buns. These days, more and more people have migrated to work in the cities, but Long Xingmei does not hold such desire. She wants to be free as a farmer.
Farming can be very tiring and does not produce a great income for a small scale farmer. Long Xingmei underwent a farming training on technical means for the process of plating that made her work on the land less exhausting. She mostly grows corn, which is ripe for picking in mid-to-late October. It is quite an uncomfortable process, especially because of the potential to be stretched by corn leaves. In the early mornings, Long Xingmei goes to the field with a basket and a sickle. It takes at least a day for two people to pick around one Mu (666 m²) of corn. She needs to move back and forth in the daytime, and carries loads of corn home. Even at nighttime, she has to go back and forth between the field and her house several times.
In the evenings, she and her husband sit around the corn and strip it. They put the corn cob into plaits to hang under the eaves of corn that are drying. Long Xingmei says that few people eat corn these days. Most people use it to feed their livestock. After picking corn, Long Xingmei cuts corn stover and sowed barley. The corn stover is commonly used as animal feed. This year, the winter is colder than ever before and most of her vegetables cannot withstand frosty weather. For this weather, Long Xingmei plants barley and potatoes. The rest of the field lies in preparation for planting tobacco in March or April next year. Due to continuous heavy rains earlier this year, Long Xingmei unfortunately lost most of her tobacco harvest.
However, like most farmers in her village Long Xingmei has an insurance for this occasion. The village therefore received a certain amount of compensation. She thinks that this is a good way to deal with natural disasters and that she will certainly consider getting her tobacco harvest insured again next year. The Pesticide Eco-Alternatives Center (PEAC) supports farmers who want to transition to ecological agriculture. Long Xingmei attended several visits of other ecological farms and now has a much bigger confidence in her own style of farming. She started to plant more vegetables and corn without pesticides and fertilizers and inspired a number of other women in the village to do the same. She relies on her land year after year, constantly learning and trying different agricultural methods to feed a family of four, while also enjoying the traditional music and dances.
This is a follow-up product of our participation in the EU-China NGO Twinning Program of Stiftung Asienhaus.