The brand­ing of Mount Kuaiji’s an­cient Chi­nese tor­reya nuts has brought fame and for­tune to the lo­cal com­mu­nity. But the new class of en­trepreneurs must main­tain a del­i­cate bal­ance with na­ture, re­ports.

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - LIFE -

WA­gri­cul­tural her­itage

hen Luo Guan­jun was grow­ing up in the Mount Kuaiji area in Zhe­jiang prov­ince, he found it hard to ap­pre­ci­ate the beauty of the nearby for­est. The trees were a sym­bol of his fam­ily’s poverty: He’d seen a huge sack of tor­reya nuts that had taken two years to grow and process ex­changed for just a few rice coupons.

At 16, Luo left his home in Zhao­ji­azhen in the Mount Kuaiji area to seek his for­tune else­where. Work­ing in a cloth­ing fac­tory in Shen­zhen, Guang­dong prov­ince, he learned about brand­ing and qual­ity con­trol. Five years later, he re­turned to the tor­reya for­est to put th­ese ideas into prac­tice.

Now Luo’s mar­ket­ing know- how has raised aware­ness about the health ben­e­fits of tor­reya nuts, and trans­formed the trees into a gold mine for the vil­lagers.

A lo­cal house­hold now typ­i­cally raises three or four tor­reya trees, which can sup­port the fam­ily for the whole year. The trees have lifted the en­tire com­mu­nity out of the “era of star­va­tion” as Luo de­scribed his child­hood.

“The tor­reya trees have changed my life and the lives of my fel­low vil­lagers,” he says. “Now they are ready to reach out to more peo­ple.”

Luo was speak­ing a few weeks af­ter the Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­ga­ni­za­tion of the United Na­tions se­lected Mount Kuaiji’s an­cient Chi­nese tor­reya as a Glob­ally Im­por­tant Agri­cul­tural Her­itage Sys­tem.

The GIAHS was ini­ti­ated in 2002 to pro­tect tra­di­tional farm­ing pro­cesses, which are at risk of dis­ap­pear­ing in the face of ru­ral mi­gra­tion and rapid ur­ban­iza­tion. China now has eight agri­cul­tural her­itage sites.

Chi­nese tor­reya trees are com­monly found around 31 de­grees north lat­i­tude. But while the wood of the trees is used for logs and or­na­ments, only the tor­reya in the Mount Kuaiji area in Shaox­ing, Zhe­jiang prov­ince, pro­duce sa­vory fruit. This is be­cause they have been care­fully se­lected and grafted for more than 2,000 years.

Mount Kuaiji is home to more than 100,000 an­cient Chi­nese tor­reya trees, also known as “trees of longevity”. Among them, 72,000 are more than 100 years old, and thou­sands are more than 1,000 years old. The long­est liv­ing Chi­nese tor­reya tree known is 1,432 years old. It is the old­est grafted tree in China, and it still pro­duces 500 kilo­grams of fruit ev­ery year.

“Chi­nese tor­reya are a liv­ing fos­sil of an­cient graft­ing and ar­ti­fi­cial se­lec­tion tech­niques,” says Tong Pinzhang, a se­nior en­gi­neer with the Zhuji Forestry Bureau. “But it re­mains a mys­tery how and when the first Chi­nese tor­reya were grafted.”

Shel­ter of ecosys­tem

The tor­reya trees are also a main­stay of the ecosys­tem in Mount Kuaiji, where land is scarce and ty­phoons and floods are fre­quent. Along with the trail­ing ter­raced fields, tea gar­dens and fish-scale pits, they help pro­tect the unique ecosys­tem.

“Ter­raced fields by them­selves lead to soil ero­sion in the moun­tains. So we grow trees as well, be­cause they not only gen­er­ate in­comes, they also pre­vent nat­u­ral dis­as­ters,” says Zhang Xiao­jun, deputy sec­re­tary gen­eral of the mu­nic­i­pal govern­ment of Shaox­ing.

“There is a say­ing here that rais­ing a tor­reya tree is some­times bet­ter than rais­ing a son,” says Tong, the en­gi­neer, “as the trees will sup­port you through­out your life time no mat­ter what. So the tor­reya farm­ers care for them just like their own chil­dren.”

Bear­ing fruit

It takes 15 years be­fore a tor­reya tree be­comes pro­duc­tive, and it takes 18 months for the fruits to ma­ture. Ev­ery Septem­ber, the whole vil­lage will work around the clock for a month to pick and process the har­vest.

Last year, 80 per­cent of the an­nual per capita in­come in Zhao­ji­azhen, more than 8,000 yuan ($1,306), came from the tor­reya trees. The to­tal out­put of fruit was 1,313 tons, with a value of 625 mil­lion yuan ($101 mil­lion).

Be­cause the tor­reya trees are usu­ally very tall and cov­ered with moss, lo­cal peo­ple have in­vented tools like the “cen­tipede lad­der” and hang­ing bam­boo bas­kets for the pick­ing sea­son. How­ever, ac­ci­dents still hap­pen from time to time, mak­ing the har­vest a time for prayers.

The process of turn­ing the fresh tor­reya fruit into tasty nuts takes 11 steps, in­clud­ing peel­ing, wash­ing, dry­ing and stir-fry­ing. It is said that the tor­reya nuts fried by lo­cal farm­ers taste the best be­cause they know how to con­trol the heat and how long they need to be cooked based on the smell of the tor­reya. Since the 1980s, the an­nual pro­duc­tion of tor­reya nuts has in­creased from 50 tons to more than 1,000 tons.

Brand­ing counts

How­ever, the in­creased out­put was not enough to en­able the vil­lage to pros­per un­til the China Tor­reya

In­dus­try As­so­ci­a­tion was founded in the early 1990s un­der Luo’s guid­ance. “When I first went to Shen­zhen, I was shocked to find a plain cot­ton shirt could sell for hun­dreds of dollars. That’s how I came to rec­og­nize the value of brand­ing,” Luo says. “It’s the same with nuts. A small pack of pis­ta­chio nuts with an Amer­i­can brand would sell for as much as a sack of the tor­reya nuts in my home­town.”

When Luo re­turned home in 1993 no tor­reya brand ex­isted, but he got a national trade­mark the fol­low­ing year.

He col­lected only best tor­reya fruit from farm­ers at a price higher than be­fore and stan­dard­ized the process to pro­duce the nuts, which he then sold in ex­quis­ite small pack­ages.

The re­tail price of tor­reya nuts has rock­eted over the last decade from 20 yuan to more than 600 yuan a kilo­gram. The nuts from the old­est tor­reya tree now sell for 10 yuan a piece.

Luo says the fu­ture of tor­reya nuts is in ad­vanced pro­cess­ing.

The nuts can be made into cap­sules that are ef­fec­tive for the preven­tion of high blood pres­sure, hy­per­glycemia and hy­per­lipemia. They also con­tain pa­cli­taxel, which can be used for can­cer preven­tion, he says.

“For old peo­ple who are not able to chew, we are de­vel­op­ing tor­reya paste, some­thing you can eat in­stantly when mixed with hot wa­ter,” Luo says. “The green skin of the tor­reya nuts con­tains es­sen­tial oil that can be de­vel­oped into sham­poo.”

In 2012, more than 100,000 peo­ple vis­ited Zhao­ji­azhen town, but Luo is cau­tious about de­vel­op­ing large-scale tourism in the tor­reya for­est.

“When it comes to the ex­ploita­tion of 1,000-year-old tor­reya trees, we can’t af­ford mis­takes,” he says.

“Some of the tourists ca­su­ally break off leaves and even branches for sou­venirs. If I were the tree, I would be weep­ing.” Con­tact the writer at sun­yuan­qing@chi­nadaily.com.cn Zhang Jian­ming in Hangzhou con­trib­uted to the story.



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