Once nestled in a land fertile with waterways and lush with trees, Baxin village, like other areas near the mountainous city of Shaoguan, is facing an acute agricultural shortfall, producing fewer crops than at any time since the 1990s.
The problem is "heavy soil pollution," said Li Deng'e, a despondent 74-year-old villager, who sprays ever-increasing amounts of pesticides on her land daily to fend off the erosion.
Soil pollution has severely worsened in Guangdong province, home to more than 3,000 mines, since 2008, according to Wan Hongfu, a researcher with the Guangdong Institute of Eco-environment and Soil Sciences.
"Farmlands near mines are typically polluted," Wan told China Daily, pointing to a survey the institute conducted throughout the province indicating that 40 percent of its soils were tainted by heavy metals.
To address these issues, the Chinese government initiated a nationwide soil pollution investigation in 2005, although the results have yet to be publicized.
The Dabaoshan Mine is believed to be one of the main polluters in the area.
Known to produce some 6,000 tons of copper and 850,000 tons of iron ore annually, the mine has produced a growing amount of sludge and wastewater that has contaminated some 585 hectares along the lower sections of the Hengshui River running atop the mountain.
Mining for iron ore exposes naturally occurring heavy metals like arsenic and cadmium, Wan said, which are both carcinogens.
"Without adequate and advanced water treatment facilities, water tainted with high levels of these metals poses great threats to soils," said Wan, "and they are linked to development of various forms of cancer."
Indeed, since 1987, more than 250 cancer-related deaths associated soil pollution, have been recorded in Shangbai village at the foot of the Dabaoshan mine.
Early media reports said the majority of cancer cases have involved liver or intestinal complications, and that skin disorders and kidney stones were also prevalent.
Li's nephew, for instance, died of intestinal cancer last year at the age of 23.
"An increasing number of people in the village, especially seniors, have developed cancers in the past decade," Li said.
"Only old people and children still stay here," he said.
A decade ago, a farmland area of 0.06 hectares could yield about 350 kilograms of rice, according to Li. Now, however, it only grows less than 100 kg, due to heavy soil pollution.
The village now has 13.3 hectares of farmland in all, most of which has is being tilled by migrant workers.
"The farmland is rented at a very low price," said Li, as "villagers no longer want to farm at home."
Huang Hongwen, a member of Guangdong's Provincial Committee of Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, agrees that pollution from the Dabaoshan Mine is threatening the health of local residents.
Huang, who is also director of South China Botanical Garden under Chinese Academy of Sciences, has sought help from the local government by providing information showing the soil and water lead content in the areas near the Dabaoshan mine have now reached 44 times more than the national standard.
The Guangdong Provincial Department of Environmental Protection has also admitted heavy metal pollution has had serious effects in the surrounding regions of Dabaoshan, and nearby mining areas in Shaoguan.
In its written reply to Huang's proposal, Provincial Environmental Protection Department officials promised to introduce concrete measures to fight pollution in the surrounding areas of Dabaoshan Mine in the near future.