Profile: Villager in World Heritage Site committed to afforestation for 40 years
Pointing at the large woods behind his house, Cheng Delin, 64, is proud to say that he has contributed to restoring and conserving forests for most of his life.
"It used to be barren, but now it is all covered by trees," said Cheng.
Cheng has over the past four decades been committed to afforestation in Zhoujia'ao Village, Chanxi Township of southwest China's Guizhou Province.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the village, abundant in old trees but lacking arable land, saw its residents using slash-and-burn farming methods. Cheng recalled that they had poor harvests, with one household only gathering 100 to 150 kg of crops from a year's farming.
Due to a shortage of food, villagers resorted to exploiting the woods and burned them in order to produce and then sell charcoal, and grew millet on the bare ground in an effort to feed themselves.
Cheng, unhappy with the status quo, made a stand and started to work in his home village to stop deforestation by encouraging villagers to plant trees together.
One tree does not make a forest. In 1982, Cheng persuaded more than 20 villagers to join his cause, and he organized a team to deny the general public access to the mountain pass, in order to facilitate afforestation.
But Cheng's idea was still strange to most villagers -- until he did a seemingly unfilial thing.
One morning, Cheng's father went into the mountains and cut down some fir trees to make a fence for a vegetable farm. When Cheng came across his father, he did not give him a hand but instead scolded him, and then treated all villagers to wine and a meal as an apology for what his father had done.
"Each family sent a representative, and we prepared two tables of food, which cost us more than 60 yuan (about 8.6 U.S. dollars), a relatively high amount to spend at that time," said Cheng. "Although my father couldn't understand me, I believed everyone needed to obey the rules, and my family was not an exception."
By being fair and honest, Cheng gained the recognition and respect of the villagers and his afforestation work has made a difference in their lives. For his efforts, Cheng was awarded the provincial model worker award.
In his pursuit of lush greeneries, Cheng also worked on filling the pockets of the villagers.
In the name of the forestry team, Cheng loaned money from banks, and introduced more than 10 species of cash crops, including gallnut and golden cypress, in accordance with the local terrain and climate. Villagers could get tree sprouts for free.
To improve planting techniques, he went to neighboring Hunan Province and Chongqing Municipality to learn skills, and invited experts of the provincial and local forestry departments to pass on forestry knowledge.
Tied with his "tree complex," he would pick some tree sprouts as gifts or tributes for Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations, weddings and funerals.
"Tree sprouts would bring about economic benefits, and more people would be attracted to plant trees in this way," said Cheng, adding that some trees also represented his best wishes.
Over the past 40 years, Cheng has moved six times. Wherever there was barren land, that is where he chose to settle down. Now, most barren land where Cheng planted trees has become a part of the UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site of Mount Fanjingshan.
According to statistics from the forestry department of Chanxi Township, which Zhoujia'ao Village belongs to, its forests cover an area of some 9,700 hectares, with the forest coverage rate increasing from 14 percent in 1980 to 73.6 percent in 2022.
Now as locals enjoy improved livelihoods, deforestation can no longer be seen. Cheng, though in his 60s, still decided to settle down in the mountains and is engaged in the farming industry, securing him an annual income of more than 100,000 yuan.
Cheng sees no reason to ever leave the forests that have accompanied him for his lifetime.
This photo taken on Nov. 8, 2022 shows a view of the forest where Cheng Delin conducts his afforestation work in Zhoujia'ao Village, Chanxi Township, Yinjiang Tujia and Miao Autonomous County, southwest China's Guizhou Province.
Cheng Delin checks the growth of trees in Zhoujia'ao Village, Chanxi Township, Yinjiang Tujia and Miao Autonomous County, southwest China's Guizhou Province, Nov. 8, 2022.
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