NANNING, Jan. 19 (Xinhua) -- "Cursed by devils" -- that is what the locals say about Qibainong.
Named after the rugged karst landforms that surround it, the township has been identified as one of the most inhospitable places on earth by UN officials.
Giant funnel-like depressions dot the landscape, draining all the water to the bottom -- the only place where humans can survive in this part of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.
More than 1,300 such funnels cover the region, some over 300 meters deep. The harsh landforms have trapped 20,000 residents in extreme poverty for decades. Now half the population still lives below the poverty line.
Rooftop pools and two small ponds built 15 years ago collect rainwater, their only source of drinking water.
"The water is not clean, but we have no other choice," villager Qin Hongguan told Xinhua.
Scattered patches of arable land, some only the size of a few hands, support limited crops -- mostly corn. But the food grown here is never enough to feed the locals.
Despite the severe food shortage, families are big.
Most residents are of the Yao ethnic minority and were never subject to China's one-child policy. Due to the old notion that more children bring more blessings, it is not rare to see families with more than five children. One young man in his mid-30s is already the father of eight children.
All these factors have contributed to the poverty in the region. Many children are left behind without proper schooling when their parents go elsewhere to work. Without proper care, their lives promise little more than those of their parents.
A significant number of hamlets in the township still do not have roads. Residents run errands on horseback.
However, change is expected soon. Local governments are building roads for every village with more than 20 households. Relocation has been proposed for those who live in extremely remote areas.
Yanyan village got its first road in 2015, and Yang Langang is more than happy to see the construction of her first brick-and-concrete house.
"We had to live in a ramshackle wooden house for 30 years because it was impossible to transport steel bars and cement here," she said.
New business opportunities come with the new roads.
Local governments invested one million yuan (145,840 U.S. dollars) to build a 1,000-square-meter scorpion farm last year, which has already relieved poverty for 10 households. Scorpions are sold for high prices in China as food and medicine.
The governments are also encouraging locals to raise chickens by offering poor households subsidies and dividends. Qibainong residents are raising a total of 160,000 chickens, which can sell for about 100 yuan each.
These efforts lifted 389 households out of poverty last year, and local authorities plan to bring all people out of poverty by 2018.
China, the world's largest developing nation, aims to lift all of its poor out of poverty by 2020.
"The most important part is finding an appropriate industry that fits the local environment and gives residents a stable income," said Yang Longwen, a local official.