Rich vil­lage yearns for lost farm glory

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - BUSINESS -

NAN­JING — Af­ter walk­ing out of his spa­cious villa, Mei Zhen­hua drives his Audi 6 to the rice farm in Huaxi vil­lage, known as China’s wealth­i­est vil­lage.

The 34-year-old for­mer met­al­lurgy en­gi­neer has lived the agri­cul­tural life for a year and a half, as one of the seven “young smart in­tel­lec­tu­als” se­lected by vil­lagers to grow rice.

Huaxi in eastern China’s Jiangsu prov­ince, about 130 km away from Shang­hai, has been ur­ban­ized. With sky­scrapers and a vil­lage-run avi­a­tion firm, Huaxi has ac­cu­mu­lated wealth through the de­vel­op­ment of in­dus­tries rang­ing from steel and chem­i­cal fiber to bank­ing, new en­ergy, lo­gis­tics and marine trans­port.

How­ever, vil­lagers are no longer sat­is­fied with the wealth gen­er­ated from in­dus­trial de­vel­op­ment, even feel­ing em­bar­rassed that agri­cul­ture has nearly died out. No­body wants to eat pro­duce from the vil­lage’s 80 hectares of farm­land, as it does not taste good.

In a de­ci­sion agreed by 2,600 vil­lagers in 2016, they gave 16 hectares of farm­land to seven young peo­ple, col­lege grad­u­ates aged 30 on av­er­age, to grow high-qual­ity rice.

They were first sent to Asahi Noyu Farm in Ja­pan to study how to grow high-qual­ity rice, as none of them had farm­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

“There is no se­cret in Ja­panese rice farm­ing, only an ar­ti­san spirit in pur­suit of per­fec­tion in each step of rice cul­ti­va­tion,” said Mei, a grad­u­ate from China’s Harbin In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy.

He said the prob­lem of Chi­nese rice was a long-term fo­cus on yield rather than taste and qual­ity.

Re­turn­ing from Ja­pan, the seven young farm­ers started grow­ing rice in Huaxi in May 2016, start­ing by lev­el­ing soil, se­lect­ing seed and grow­ing seedling.

Mei said they were strict in each process, us­ing tradi- tional man­ual se­lec­tion for good seed.

To en­sure the wa­ter was clean, they dug a small reser­voir near the field, where wa­ter is treated through three fil­tra­tion pro­ce­dures be­fore ir­ri­gat­ing the farm.

The ex­per­i­men­tal field yielded only 60 tonnes of rice last year, with a per-unit out­put only half of a nor­mal Chi­nese rice field. How­ever, the rice won the gold award at Jiangsu pro­vin­cial rice ap­praisal and was soon sold out.

The vil­lage com­mit­tee de­cided this year to give all of the vil­lage’s 80 hectares of farm­land to the seven farm­ers.

“Huaxi is af­ter all a vil­lage. We can­not give up our agri­cul­tural roots,” said Wu Xie’en, Party chief of Huaxi.

In­dus­tri­al­iza­tion and ur­ban­iza­tion had been seen as a mea­sure of de­vel­op­ment for a ru­ral town. But peo­ple are now wor­ried that with­out agri­cul­ture, the vil­lage may lose its na­ture, ac­cord­ing to Wu.

The vil­lage com­mit­tee has spent 50 mil­lion yuan ($7.3 mil­lion) on the good rice cul­ti­va­tion pro­gram. In the next five years, it will con­tinue to send young peo­ple to study rice farm­ing in part­ner­ship with the Ja­panese farm.

Cui Jing­bin, one of the seven Huaxi farm­ers, stud­ied in the Nishinip­pon In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy in Ja­pan.

“Food safety and health are new pur­suits for Chi­nese peo­ple. With the rice pro­gram, we nei­ther want to earn big money, nor make an at­trac­tion, but ex­plore a mod­ern agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion sys­tem to grow high­qual­ity rice,” Wu said.

The vil­lage’s cur­rent an­nual per capita in­come is over $15,000, with each house­hold hav­ing a villa and pri­vate cars. Vil­lagers also en­joy subsidized health care, and the vil­lage hosts over 2 mil­lion tourists every year.

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