With the start of the wheat harvest this month, residents of a poverty-stricken village in northwest Anhui province are once again facing the possibility of big problems from the area's terrible infrastructure.
Li Zongyin draws a circle with his finger on a map of Guhe. The circle, which covers about one-third of the map of the village, represents about 133 hectares of wheat fields.
"The wheat in this area will ripen soon and again may rot in the field," said Li, Party chief of the village.
He said some of the wheat had been lost that way in the past two years as a result of heavy rains, which made it difficult for farmers to get to their fields because roads were mud-choked and virtually impassible.
Guhe, with a population of 5,086, is the administrative center for 14 scattered neighborhoods. Li said the wheat fields belong to six neighborhoods, home to about 2,000 people.
"The agricultural authorities have planned four concrete roads to connect the fields, with a combined distance of more than 6 kilometers, but the projects can be started only after the harvest season," Li said, explaining that road work would disrupt the harvest. The projects are expected to be finished in September or October.
Some of the villagers, however, don't want to wait. Li Zhongdao, a cadre in the village's Lishanzhai neighborhood, has been busy trying to persuade its more than 600 residents to donate money to rent heavy equipment to fix their dirt road.
"The road was not listed among the four roads to be repaired by the government," he said and added that each villager has been asked to donate 10 yuan ($1.45) for the repairs. Li Zhongdao acknowledged that his plan would meet only short-term needs and include no materials for construction or materials, such as cement or sand.
Better roads, more income
Li Zhongdao said he is confident of winning support from the villagers, although other cadres have not had a lot of luck with similar proposals.
Guhe is one of 11 villages in Lyuzhai township, "and it is the village with the worst roads", said Yu Haitian, head of the township government. "It's probably the poorest among Lyuzhai's four key villages that are eligible for poverty relief." It was not until late 2015 that a 4-meter-wide concrete road was built to connect the village with the town's center.
The 11 km road connects four villages. "Although just 2.5 km passes in the area of Guhe, it has benefited us a lot," Li Zongyin said.
A reliable road has put more money in farmers' pockets, he said, since it allowed them to take their own grain to market, rather than having to depend on buyers who would pay less since they had go out to the village to get it.
"Before completion of the road, each kilogram of wheat could be priced only at about 1.5 yuan, which was about 0.5 yuan lower than the average price," said Li Zongyin.
"The villagers could hardly bring the grain out of the village and had no choice but to rely on the grain dealers for transportation with motorized tricycles."
Sun Tonglu, deputy head of the Lyuzhai government, said, "Each kilometer of (concrete) road requires an investment of about 400,000 yuan, of which 100,000 yuan should be raised from the villagers."
Li Zongyin said money is raised from residents so that more roads can be built with limited government funds. However, he and his colleagues have found it hard to encourage people to contribute.
"Residents in two of Guhe's neighborhoods refused to pay any money for the road because they say they are the residents who are the farthest from the road, even though they would still need the road," Li Zongyin said.
Each village's leadership team, which usually includes eight cadres, is given 50,000 yuan a year to cover office expenditures. The cadres of Guhe contributed 33,000 yuan from their office budget toward the road fund.