CHINA - In a village in Huayuan county, Hunan province, Shi Pazhuan, the 64-year-old wife of Shi Zhiwen, asked the visitor to her humble home, "May I ask your name?" The village head explained she was speaking with Xi Jinping, the president and Party chief.
After learning Shi's age, the president said: "You are an elder sister to me."
In a visit to the poverty-stricken south of Hunan on Sunday, President Xi Jinping said alleviating poverty in the region should be done with targeted policies, including improving agriculture and education.
During his visit he asked the elderly couple about their livelihood and checked the family's two pigs.
"Poverty alleviation plans should be made based on real situations," Xi said. "It should be targeted at specific groups in specific situations and should avoid using loud slogans."
Xi said three things are important to alleviating poverty: economic development, basic public welfare and education.
He hopes that a solution can be found in Hunan and possibly duplicated for other poverty-stricken regions in China.
The Wulingshan area, which stretches across Hunan, Guizhou and Hubei provinces as well as the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, covers 71 counties and a population of 850,000. The government prioritized the area in the Outline for Development-Oriented Poverty Reduction for China's Rural Areas (2001-10).
The mountainous area is located in the central and western regions of Hunan province and is considered a principal battlefield for regional development and poverty alleviation.
During his visit, Xi went to Changputang, a village which is populated by mostly the Tujia ethnic group.
Since 1983, the village has grown fruits such as oranges, grapefruits and kiwis. It now devotes 1.1 square kilometers for growing these fruits and has an annual harvest of 3 million kg. For every 0.067 hectares of land, the village can harvest 24,000 yuan (S$4,890) in kiwis. "That is very high value-added," Xi said.
He said better technology and a bigger market are needed to improve agriculture in the village. He advised villagers to keep an eye on the market and look ahead. Xi also encouraged them to work harder.
Agriculture is the key economic engine in the area. From 2011 to 2012, the Ministry of Agriculture invested 1.23 billion yuan to boost development in the area. Today, southern Hunan is the largest base for lilies and kiwis in China.
Wang Sangui, a professor with Renmin University of China, said a major problem in alleviating poverty is the lack of specific, targeted policies.
"There are so many policies with good intensions, but they have failed to bring the best results for the poor," he said.
Wang said one policy that backfired involved the recent consolidation of schools in Hunan. The aim was to bring better education resources to rural areas, but policymakers did not consider the living and transportation costs for rural school-age children. Some students, Wang said, now have to walk two to three hours to get to school.
"Policies should not be issued without field investigations," he said.
Other examples of local government moves that failed include building new roads and new homes for the poor.
"Actually the poorest don't really benefit from changes in routes or streets," he said. "The poorest also cannot afford new housing prices."
In Changsha, Xi visited Central South University and learned about the latest research development at two key State laboratories. He lauded the work by scientists at the powder metallurgy laboratory, a facility whose research has contributed to the country's space programme.
Xi also learned about purification and recycling of heavy metal wastewater at the university's heavy metal pollution prevention research centre.
During an inspection tour of Wasion Group, a leading supplier of energy measurement equipment in the country, Xi said he hopes the company will continue to step up its innovation and R&D efforts to maintain its edge in the market.