Xiao Ling and his wife.
A once-impoverished farmer turned to breeding a rare animal in his hometown - bamboo rats - hoping to bring a measure of prosperity both to his neighbors and himself.
Xiao Ling, 38, a farmer in Hongxing community, a village in Chengmagang, Hubei province, brought in 117 mating pairs of bamboo rats on Wednesday to start his breeding operation.
The rats are expected to produce babies early next year, bringing their numbers up to 600 and earning about 60,000 yuan (,800) in profits by the middle of next year, when the second batch is delivered.
In April, Xiao attended a training course in Nanning, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region.
"It is an emerging industry with only a few people handling the business," Xiao said.
The meat of the bamboo rat can be used as food or medicine, and its fur can be used in clothing. Currently, raising bamboo rats has low risk and high economic value, he said.
"Bamboo rats are well-known in some regions of South China, but in Hubei few people know about them, not to mention raising them to make money."
Xiao had left his home and worked in cities for more than a decade. To take care of sick family members, he returned home in 2011 and started a pig farm, also raising a few cattle, sheep and chickens.
However, pork prices were low, and it was hard to stay in business.
"Raising pigs is risky, as the operating costs are high," Xiao said.
Although he accumulated years of farming experience and always worked hard, he actually lost money in recent years.
The turning point came in 2015, when charity organization Heifer International carried out its poverty relief program in Macheng.
The foreign-financed program provides impoverished households with 6,000 yuan (0) - enough to raise a heifer - along with training in such areas as sustainability, improved animal and resource management, and communication, to help farmers succeed. Xiao was among the first batch of trainees.
"Heifer International's training taught us to be smart farmers - how to make and implement plans and raise animals," he said.
He used the grant money to raise more cattle while keeping his pig business.
"I am more confident and have a clearer plan and goals for doing business," he said.
The number of cattle Xiao raised quickly grew from six to 17 as he mastered animal husbandry. He also established a cattle-raising cooperative, the first of its kind in Hongxing bringing the other 44 households together.
Grasping the opportunity, he armed himself with new knowledge and succeeded in lifting his family out of poverty.
Though some people had doubts, Xiao won their support. Heifer International funded his trip to Nanning, and three fellow townsmen invested 150,000 yuan.
"My fellow townsmen trusted me and are willing to help," he said. "There must be a team behind any business."
Zheng Zunsheng, director of the poverty alleviation and development office of Chengmagang, said: "A man cannot stand on his feet if he has no confidence, and is unable to succeed in any business if he has no knowledge."