In­ner Mon­go­lian herds­men har­vest fruit of the desert

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - BUSINESS - By ZHANG YU and YUAN HUI in Alxa, In­ner Mon­go­lia

Herds­men in north­ern China’s In­ner Mon­go­lia au­ton­o­mous re­gion have been sup­ple­ment­ing their mod­est in­comes by grow­ing desert plants, us­ing ad­vanced tech­niques un­der the guid­ance of an en­ter­pris­ing Chi­nese phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pany.

Alxa League, an ad­min­is­tra­tive di­vi­sion of In­ner Mon­go­lia, is a re­gion no­table for its frag­ile eco­log­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment, with two-thirds of its land cov­ered by desert.

Herds­men in the league, in the western part of In­ner Mon­go­lia, used to de­pend on rais­ing cat­tle and sheep on grass­lands which cover 90,000 square kilo­me­ters.

But the de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of the grass­lands in re­cent years made cat­tle and sheep breed­ing dif­fi­cult.

Then in 2012, the herds­men were en­cour­aged by lo­cal au­thor­i­ties to plant Cis­tanche de­ser­ti­cola, a peren­nial hardy shrub-like herb grow­ing in deserts, com­monly called Roucon­grong in Chi­nese.

The plant is used as an in­gre­di­ent for mak­ing Chi­nese herbal medicine, usu­ally used in treat­ments for anti-ag­ing and for nour­ish­ing kid­neys. The re­gion was al­ready the top pro­duc­ing area of the herb in China.

But due to its low sur­vival rate in the wild, the herds­men were given equip­ment and taught ad­vanced cul­ti­va­tion tech­niques by a lo­cal phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pany.

Alxa Con­grong (Group) Co Ltd, founded in 1996, is China’s first com­pany to or­ga­nize the re­search and pro­duc­tion of the herb and its down­stream prod­ucts as an in­dus­try.

It es­tab­lished a co­op­er­a­tive work­ing re­la­tion­ship with the lo­cal herds­men, pro­vid­ing them with free seeds, in­stru­ments, and train­ing in cul­ti­va­tion tech­niques for the herb.

Now when the herbs are ready for har­vest­ing, Alxa Con­grong buys them from the lo­cals and pro­cesses them into prod­ucts, in­clud­ing herbal medicines, alcohol and tea, said Ren Cunfu, Party chief of the com­pany.

The work­ing re­la­tion­ship at­tracted the at­ten­tion of hun­dreds of herds­men, who started to plant the herb.

Ma Zhongqiang, one of the herds­men, planted 1.3 square kilo­me­ters, har­vest­ing a crop which earned him 150,000 yuan ($22,737) last year.

“The in­come from the herb is three times more than my earn­ings from rais­ing goats in the past,” Ma said.

If the herds­men don’t want to grow and man­age the herb by them­selves, they can rent their land to the com­pany and work for it. The group cur­rently over­sees 51 square kilo­me­ters of the herb.

In the end, they can get both the rent and also pay­ment for their man­ual la­bor.

As a re­sult, the av­er­age an­nual in­come of each la­borer in­creased by 15,000 yuan to 32,000 yuan, Ren said.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­search re­port pro­vided by the com­pany, the traded vol­ume of the herb in the do­mes­tic mar­ket is less than 700 met­ric tons, which makes it a very small in­dus­try.

“But it is emerg­ing and has a big po­ten­tial mar­ket, be­cause its ap­pli­ca­tions are be­ing made known to more and more peo­ple,” Ren said.

The sales rev­enue of the com­pany in 2015 to­taled 88 mil­lion yuan, up 51 per­cent from the pre­vi­ous year, he said.

The com­pany can process at least 300 tons of ripe Cis­tanche de­ser­ti­cola an­nu­ally.

This year, its area un­der cul­ti­va­tion is ex­pected to in­crease by 67 square kilo­me­ters. Each square km can yield about 150 kilo­grams of ripe herbs, the com­pany added.

av­er­age an­nual in­come of each la­borer in In­ner Mon­go­lia

Con­tact the writ­ers at zhangyu1@chi­

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