Golden crops

The cul­ti­va­tion of hy­brid citrus fruits, such as tan­ge­los, has helped to boost lo­cal in­comes and raised liv­ing stan­dards. Sun Xiaochen re­ports from Huichang, Jiangxi prov­ince.

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - Ed­i­tor’s note:

Last re­port in series shows how vil­lagers beat poverty with hy­brid citrus.

This is the last in a series of spe­cial re­ports in which China Daily has fo­cused on the gov­ern­ment’s ef­forts to erad­i­cate poverty and raise liv­ing stan­dards in the coun­try’s ru­ral ar­eas, es­pe­cially among mem­bers of the na­tion’s eth­nic groups.

LBreak­ing out of poverty

ocated in the rugged, moun­tain­ous ter­rain of south­ern Jiangxi prov­ince in East China, Huichang county was once fa­mous for its rich, ver­dant land­scape, which was im­mor­tal­ized in a poem writ­ten by Chair­man Mao Ze­dong in 1934 when the Red Army was based in the area.

More than eight decades later, the last re­main­ing traces of the revo­lu­tion are de­cay­ing, but the county has re­ju­ve­nated it­self through a bur­geon­ing busi­ness cul­ti­vat­ing “golden” crops.

Boast­ing a mild, sub­trop­i­cal cli­mate and rel­a­tively acidic soil, Huichang, which has a pop­u­la­tion of 520,000, mostly mem­bers of the Hakka eth­nic group, has de­vel­oped more than 16,000 hectares of hill­side citrus or­chards, mainly navel or­anges and tan­ge­los. These fruits, the county’s ma­jor cash crops, have al­lowed many res­i­dents to es­cape the poverty trap.

Zhong­gui vil­lage in Zhoutian, one of 19 ru­ral town­ships in Huichang, lies at the heart of a 10,000 mu (ap­prox­i­mately 666 hectares) farm where the lo­cals grow tan­ge­los, a hy­brid of tan­ger­ine and pomelo or grape­fruit that the Hakka peo­ple first cross­bred in the early 1990s.

Over­look­ing the once-bar­ren moun­tains that sur­round the vil­lage, the sight of nu­mer­ous trees laden with clus­ters of ripe fruits ear­lier this month her­alded a good har­vest. The bustling scenes of farm­ers stack­ing empty boxes be­tween rows of trees, and pickup trucks roar­ing along the muddy road mid­way up the hill also sig­ni­fied a busy fruit-pick­ing sea­son.

In the 1990s, the moun­tain vil­lage, which is home to 2,780 peo­ple, was im­pov­er­ished as a re­sult of a poor trans­port in­fra­struc­ture that left roads im­pass­able, out­flows of la­bor and a lack of com­mer­cial crops. Al­most half of the fam­i­lies lived below the poverty line, sus­tained only by the rice they grew on the lim­ited amount of land avail­able for grains.

“The citrus fruit busi­ness is sig­nif­i­cant be­cause it has saved the vil­lage from poverty. With­out these golden fruits, I can’t imag­ine how mis­er­able life could have be­come for the lo­cal peo­ple, who had no sources of in­come back then,” said Wen Fanghua, deputy di­rec­tor of the Huichang Fruit In­dus­try Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Ex­per­i­ment

The shift to fruit cul­ti­va­tion hap­pened af­ter an ex­per­i­ment in a small or­chard at the house of Rao Min­grong, a lo­cal farmer, in the late 1990s. Along with a few other vil­lagers, Rao tried graft­ing grape­fruit branches onto a cou­ple of tan­ger­ine trees in his yard. To his de­light, the cross­breeds bore a sur­pris­ing fruit far sooner than he had ex­pected.

“One day, I dis­cov­ered that some hy­brid fruits on a cou­ple of grafted trees seemed spe­cial. They were not like tan­ger­ines or or­anges in shape, but their bright yel­low skins looked nice and they tasted de­li­cious,” he said.

Based on the first few high­qual­ity hy­brids and with help from vil­lage cadres and agron­o­mists from Huazhong Agri­cul­ture Univer­sity, Rao mas­tered graft­ing tech­niques and learned how to fer­til­ize the trees and ad­just the level of acid­ity in the soil.

He is now the big­gest grower of tan­ge­los in Huichang, and since 2011, he has in­spired 386 im­pov­er­ished house­holds in the county to plant the fruit.

Ma Yun­cai is one of the peo­ple Rao helped. The 58-yearold be­gan cul­ti­vat­ing the fruit in 2013 as a way of re­pay­ing heavy debts in­curred by ex­pen­sive med­i­cal treat­ments for his son, who is par­tially par­a­lyzed by se­vere spondyli­tis.

“All the money the fam­ily had made and saved by plant­ing rice was con­sumed by the med­i­cal bills. My life re­ally was with­out hope,” said Ma, whose skinny frame makes him look much older than his age.

In 2013, Ma’s plight was no­ticed by the lo­cal gov­ern­ment’s poverty-al­le­vi­a­tion cam­paign­ers, who of­fered him a one-time sub­sidy of 300 yuan ($43) per mu to buy pes­ti­cides and fer­til­iz­ers.

Hope re­turns

Now nurs­ing more than 260 grafted tan­gelo trees, Ma ex­pects to earn 110,000 yuan this sea­son, and he is re­lieved that his luck has fi­nally turned. “Even if it re­mains ex­tremely hard to la­bor in the or­chard at my age, I don’t feel the ef­fects of the toil be­cause I can see hope once again,” he said, his voice crack­ing with emo­tion.

Thanks to the gov­ern­ment’s push and with tech­ni­cal guid­ance from Rao, the fruit­planters in Zhong­gui have ex­panded the area cov­ered by tan­gelo or­chards to 300 hectares. With a fur­ther 200 hectares de­voted to navel or­anges, fruit cul­ti­va­tion has contributed more than 64 mil­lion yuan to the vil­lage since 2014, gen­er­at­ing an av­er­age net gain of 10,000 yuan for each res­i­dent.

About 400 vil­lagers who lived below the na­tional poverty line have shed their im­pov­er­ished sta­tus af­ter boost­ing their earn­ings con­sid­er­ably through the cul­ti­va­tion and sale of citrus fruits.

Last year, the poverty line for ru­ral res­i­dents was 2,800 yuan per per­son, ac­cord­ing to the State Coun­cil Lead­ing Group Of­fice of Poverty Al­le­vi­a­tion and De­vel­op­ment, which ad­justs the stan­dard ev­ery year.

Since farm­ers from sur­round­ing town­ships such as Jun­men­ling and Gaopai joined the Huichang col­lec­tive, the to­tal area de­voted to the cul­ti­va­tion of tan­ge­los has sur­passed 2,600 hectares, and the farm­ers plan to ex­pand the area to more than 6,600 hectares by 2020.

By the same year, poverty should have been erad­i­cated for the 12,000 house­holds that plant tan­ge­los in Huichang, even though about one in 10 is below the poverty line at the mo­ment, said Wen, from the county fruit in­dus­try ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The on­go­ing de­vel­op­ment of the in­dus­try has also cre­ated jobs in re­lated sec­tors, such as fruit pro­cess­ing, main­te­nance of agri­cul­ture equip­ment and trans­porta­tion.

At the premises of Huichang Xin­feng Fruit In­dus­try Co, which em­ploys about 200 peo­ple on a sea­sonal ba­sis, work­ers were busy cleaning fruits and sort­ing them by size and weight be­fore pack­ing them into boxes.

The work­ers earn about 160 yuan a day, and the two-month work pe­riod be­tween the har­vest and dis­tri­bu­tion will bring them at least 10,000 yuan each, just in time for Spring Fes­ti­val, China’s most im­por­tant hol­i­day, ac­cord­ing to Wu Xiaofeng, the fac­tory’s gen­eral man­ager.

“The em­ploy­ees are mainly lo­cal peo­ple who used to work away from home in the coastal prov­inces, leav­ing their par­ents and chil­dren un­cared for back at home,” he said. “Now they can work at home for at least a cou­ple of months and earn some de­cent money.”

There are at least 10 sim­i­lar fruit pro­cess­ing and pack­ing fac­to­ries in op­er­a­tion in the county, pro­vid­ing more than 40,000 jobs.

The grow­ers’ quest for a bet­ter life echoes the county’s name — Huichang trans­lates lit­er­ally as “to pros­per” — and the pro­vin­cial ad­min­is­tra­tion’s am­bi­tions to erad­i­cate poverty.

Sup­port

Liu Qi, the gov­er­nor of Jiangxi, has pledged that poverty al­le­vi­a­tion will be at the top of his agenda dur­ing the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20).

He said Jiangxi’s poverty-re­lief mea­sures should be dic­tated by the mar­ket, and res­i­dents should be en­cour­aged to es­tab­lish co­op­er­a­tives and fam­ily busi­nesses.

Liu urged fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions to pro­vide greater sup­port for the poverty-al­le­vi­a­tion mea­sures by of­fer­ing in­sur­ance ser­vices and low-in­ter­est loans to help farm­ers start their own busi­nesses.

The pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment will pro­vide ex­tra funds to

I dis­cov­ered that some hy­brid fruits on a cou­ple of grafted trees seemed spe­cial. They were not like tan­ger­ines or or­anges in shape, but their bright yel­low skins looked nice and they tasted de­li­cious. Rao Min­grong, a farmer in Huichang

im­prove the ru­ral in­fra­struc­ture, in­clud­ing the con­struc­tion of high­ways, a power grid, ir­ri­ga­tion plants and even ac­cess to the in­ter­net, to pro­vide bet­ter liv­ing con­di­tions.

Last year, al­most 2 mil­lion peo­ple in Jiangxi lived below the of­fi­cial poverty line, most of them in ru­ral ar­eas, ac­cord­ing to the pro­vin­cial of­fice for poverty al­le­vi­a­tion.

Liu pre­dicted that as Huichang sees the emer­gence of more busi­nesses tai­lor-made for re­gional con­di­tions, such as fruit plant­ing, about 2 mil­lion peo­ple will be lifted out of poverty by 2018.

Con­tact the writer at sunx­i­aochen@chi­nadaily.com.cn

PHOTOS BY YUAN QINGPAN / CHINA DAILY

Fruit farmer Zhou Ren­sheng (left) and his son-in-law Zeng Bingyan pick tan­ge­los at an or­chard in a moun­tain­ous area of Jun­men­ling town­ship, Huichang county, in East China’s Jiangxi prov­ince.

CHINA DAILY

An em­ployee of Huichang Xin­feng Fruit In­dus­try Co pours or­anges onto a con­veyor belt.

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