CURA’s History and Mission

I was introduced to everyone in the office the next Friday morning after eating some fried bread and dumplings with hot soy milk. After getting a tour of the office and lunch, Ming collected some reading material for me to catch up on the latest updates in CURA and to more fully understand the Anlong Village project and mission. Chengdu Urban River’s Association has been trying to connect the urbanites and Ecological farmers north of the city and build economic and environmental sustainability between them.
Before arriving in China I had learned the basics of CURA, which was to address the water pollution problems of the City’s rivers and waterways. In 1992, the local government began the Fu Nan River Project, which aimed to increase the flow of the rivers and remove or prevent the waste and pollution that enters the rivers. To do this they reconstructed the water ways with brick walls, small dams, and moved factories and waste outlets into the river. Ten years later the waters remained polluted and more research was done to discover the 60% of the river’s pollution came from agricultural non-point sources upstream.
Many farmers must now use pesticides and fertilizers to make up for the loss labor that has moved to the industrial and factory jobs in the city. The local government project came to an end but Tian Jun, a former government leader in the project stepped down from her position in government to establish CURA in trying to address the continued city river pollution.
Since then, CURA has worked with one of the larger villages, Anlong, north of Chengdu to help develop sustainable agriculture that does not require chemicals. To do this the farmers need to find a way to replace these chemicals. This came in the form of Bio-Gas digesters, urine diverting toilets (a Swedish invention), and man-made wetlands. These constructed wetlands filter “gray” water through terraces of native aquatic vegetation so that clean water returns to the river. The Bio-Gas digester is a collector for animal and plant waste which ferments a gas that is collected as a substitute energy source for fossil fuels and other unsustainable fuel sources. The animal and plant waste also becomes compost for replacing chemical fertilizers. Solid human waste collected from the urine diverting toilets is kept in a composting container so that human waste sterilizes over time to be eventually used as additional compost to fertilize plants.
These are some of the newly developed infrastructure that makes living more affordable and green for farmers of Anlong village. Though, a return to some of the more traditional ways of farming are also important for raising enough crops to make a living. Seasonal rotations of fields and growing different crops alongside one another allows for soils to replenish over the year. The loss in yields when switching from factory produced chemical fertilizers to natural methods is substantial the first year, but over the years a return in the natural investment pays off for everyone. So CURA aslo has a Community Supported Agricultural model that helps farmers connect with urban consumers looking for chemical free produce and food. The food produced in Anlong is not technically organic as the process to be certified organic is convoluted, expensive, and must be approved and regulated by the Communist Party. So by cutting out this middle man, the farmers can sell ecological produce for only twice the price of non-ecological produce and consumers win because Certified Organic produce is much more expensive than what Anlong farmers charge for theirs.
As much of the infrastructure is completed, the staff here wish to further promote this sustainable model, by further connecting the farmers to consumers, but also to raise awareness of the alternative ways people can be sustainable here in China. Tours to Chengdu residents, and even foreigners, are given in hopes that this model will be encouraged in other villages and that urbanites have a better appreciation of the hard and collective work needed to be care for the environment and people in it. Next week, I will explain more about my own job here at CURA for the two months and how it relates to the model and mission of Anlong and CURA.

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