The New Norm
Watch a video that explains how alternative energy is becoming the new norm in Yunnan.
Standing in a courtyard off the main road that runs through Liguang Village, Xiong Chunhong gestures to the barren soil at his feet. “There should be a foot of snow on the ground at this point in the year,” he says.
It’s unseasonably warm for winter, and Xiong isn’t happy about it. Yunnan — one of China’s poorest provinces — is suffering through a six-month-long drought that could result in an anemic spring harvest, complicating life in a region where agrarian communities typically eke out subsistence livings.
Xiong points to a nearby table where villagers have queued to pay back microfinance loans. These loans, facilitated in part by The Nature Conservancy, funded the purchase of household alternative energy units and community-designed projects to cultivate medicinal herbs and high-yield mushroom crops.
“The program is very helpful,” says Xiong, who used a loan to buy solar panels and a biogas stove for his house. “Especially for people who can be creative.”
Throughout Yunnan, the Conservancy has funded and supported new initiatives that use scientific breakthroughs to improve livelihood opportunities in local communities. But alternative energy and microfinance projects aren’t just improving people’s lives — they’re also protecting the environment.
Making Alternative Normal
Pay a visit to Haixi Village — located along the banks of placid Lashi Lake, not far from Lijiang’s celebrated Old Town — and you’ll find farmers on horseback trotting past traditional stone houses. It could be mistaken for a tableau from the distant past — until your eyes fall on the futuristic solar water heaters perched atop nearly every household.
In Yunnan Province, “alternative” energy units are becoming anything but: our science has created a replicable solution to a conservation problem that’s prevalent throughout the region. Since the project began, the Conservancy has installed more than 30,000 alternative energy units in Yunnan.
Zhang Chenggui’s household exemplifies the new norm. His residence in Haixi is hooked up to a solar water heater and a biogas converter. That biogas converter transforms the waste produced by his pigs into natural gas that can power his fuel-efficient stove.
People and Forests Breathing Easier
Thanks to these new alternative energy units, the project has resulted in huge health benefits, both for people and the environment:
- A 35-75 percent decrease in household firewood consumption has in turn reduced deforestation.
- Indoor carbon monoxide and particulate matter concentrations in residences with fuel-efficient stoves have dropped 50 percent, reducing the respiratory ailments traditionally caused by smoky indoor cooking fires.
- The project has resulted in more than 15,000 tons of carbon emissions reductions.
The alternative energy units have freed many families from labor-intensive and environmentally unfriendly firewood-gathering. All of the roughly 30 families in Haixi Village have alternative energy units. And for many of the households, incomes have increased more than tenfold.
Zhang is also the beneficiary of a microfinance loan. He used the money to build a greenhouse, which has allowed him to produce strawberry crops —and thus additional income — year-round.
Investing in a Green Yunnan
A couple hours northwest of Haixi in Liguang, villagers like Xiong have gathered to pay back their microfinance loans. Xiong explains that he used his loan to install a fuel-efficient stove and solar panels. He also purchased a motor cart to transport seeds and fertilizer to a nearby market.
“If I have the opportunity, I want to start more projects like this to support my family,” says Xiong, who lives with his wife, mother and two daughters.
This is the second round of microfinance loans in Liguang, which sits inside the borders of a national park, tentatively named Laojunshan, that the Conservancy is helping to establish. Nearly 90 households — many of which are involved in the commercial farming of white beans — participated in the program.
Feng Jinlong, a village leader, is happy that alternative energy units are as prevalent in Liguang as they are in Haixi.
“This is a good opportunity to reduce firewood consumption and protect the environment,” he says. The drought may not be over yet, but at least the Conservancy — armed with the latest scientific developments in the alternative energy field — is making people’s lives easier in the meantime.