With China promising to have wiped out poverty by 2020, many provincial-level regions are proposing to relocate residents from barren, physically disadvantaged areas to start new lives elsewhere.
One province that has already had success with such a strategy is Gansu, which has just finished hosting an executive of the United Nations branch that helped it organize and fund a pioneering relocation scheme.
Stanlake Samkange of the World Food Programme (WFP) was there to see a remarkable change of fortunes for people in Jingtai county since it was besieged by the Tengger Desert in the late 1980s. Jingtai was divided into two parts: inaccessible, arid mountains and sparsely vegetated wasteland.
China and the WFP came up with a plan to resettle more than 400,000 people from the mountains and turn the wasteland into farmland.
The government built new homes and facilities pumping in irrigation water from the Yellow River. Kou Zongjun was one of 115,500 mountain dwellers who then labored to get 24,700 hectares of land ready to farm under a WFP scheme that gave them food aid in return for their toil.
Kou said he was given three kilograms of grain per day of work. "That was my whole family's output in the mountains."
The settlers have become better off on thriving water-saving agriculture and animal husbandry. In 2015, they generated economic benefits worth 16.3 billion yuan (about 2.5 billion U.S. dollars), nearly 20 times the money spent on the irrigation project, according to official figures.
The per capita net income of the WFP program beneficiaries was 7,626 yuan last year, 120 times the sum before the program was carried out.
Gansu's Gulang County is now looking to follow suit, with a similar relocation of another 40,000 mountain residents.
Stanlake Samkange said the WFP will continue to support China's fight to eliminate poverty. The country still has a rural population of about 55 million living below the poverty line of 2,300 yuan in annual income.