Villagers in Menggang, Yunnan Province, harvesting ecologically grown vegetables.
Even in a pandemic, the Bulang ethnic minority residents are contemplating the future of Menggang Village. “My family is enjoying healthy food,” says a villager with pride and contentment in a community discussion about eco-farming. “We have enough that we can share with other families and friends too! We are happy growing fruit and vegetables ecologically; it’s not about making more money.”
In the past, this community in Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture of Yunnan Province had seemed a bit lost on how it could develop. Menggang had been known as ‘Cow Dung Village’ before the county initiated an environmental improvement project in 2018. “We used to have more than 1,000 cattle,” a villager recalled. “We lived above and the animals below. The entire village did smell of cattle.”
Now the villagers are participating in a project with Bulang communities. They attend cultural exchanges and are reforging ties with their people. As part of the project, they work with the Menghai Environmental Protection Department to restore a sacred lake in the village. A landmark of local culture, the lake also treats domestic sewage and beautifies the landscape. The community has begun to sort their garbage too, and overall, Menggang has developed into a popular environmental pilot site.
At a deeper level, the community-led learning project has helped invigorate Bulang people’s interest in their own culture. Villagers are developing a stronger sense of identity and deeper connections with the land. They are discovering that Menggang has a history of more than 1,000 years, and that the surrounding sacred forest is where their ancestors are buried. Knowing this, they have become deeply motivated to protect it. They also work together on very tangible things, like constructing communal infrastructure, herding cattle, and sorting garbage. All of this builds community cohesion.
This cohesion has provided the foundation for Menggang to withstand the impact of the pandemic – the community has reflected on how to encourage people to stay in, or return to the village, and how to keep resources circulating within the community. Since 2020, PCD has supported MueangNam Sustainable Development Service Centre to begin new initiatives. One is with village leaders who visit other Bulang communities to learn how forest protection and livelihood needs are balanced in traditional Bulang landscape design. Another is with middle-aged Bulang migrant workers who wish to return to Menggang to practise eco-farming; The returnees are gathering information and expertise about traditional seeds and wild vegetables, and mobilising their fellow villagers to farm ecologically.
The flat terrain of Menggang is suitable for rice farming and has enabled villagers to become more than self-sufficient. Villagers have also arranged to grow different vegetables, ensuring a healthy variety that can be shared around. The community is seeing that it can be more self-reliant, and increasingly resilient to external factors, not only the pandemic!