Red Berries that Glint in the Desert

China Today (English) - - ECONOMY - By HUANG YUANJUN

GUIDED by the pro­vin­cial strat­egy of build­ing an eco­log­i­cally strong Qing­hai, berry cul­ti­va­tion in Haixi Mon­go­lian and Ti­betan Au­ton­o­mous Pre­fec­ture has de­vel­oped in leaps and bounds since 2008. The pre­fec­ture’s to­tal plan­ta­tion area has ex­panded from a few spo­radic patches to more than 27,000 hectares. Haixi is now China’s sec­ond largest berry grow­ing re­gion. A small fruit has thus pro­moted a big in­dus­try, so adding im­pe­tus to lo­cal agri­cul­tural struc­tural ad­just­ments.

Rather than merely fo­cus­ing on scale and yield, lo­cal goji berry in­dus­try now seeks bet­ter qual­ity and ef­fi­ciency, ac- cord­ing to head of the pre­fec­ture’s In­sti­tute of Agri­cul­tural Sciences Ren Gang.

Mil­len­nium-old Goji Berry For­est

Most berries grow in the ar­eas of Du­lan, Uland, Del­ingha, Da Qaidam, and Gol­mud in the Qaidam Basin. Vis­i­tors in search of the ori­gins of the lo­cal

berry cul­ture are of­ten di­rected to a 1,000-year-old wild berry for­est in Wu­long­gou. Hid­den in Du­lan County, it is the largest for­est of its kind in the Qaidam Basin.

Wu­long­gou is sit­u­ated on the Kun­lun Moun­tains. The name, which lit­er­ally means “val­ley of five drag­ons,” orig­i­nates in a lo­cal leg­end about five drag­ons that once guarded the 12 di­vine trees that stood in the val­ley.

A sur­pris­ing quan­tity of wild berries doggedly sur­vive in the val­ley, on land that has sparse veg­e­ta­tion due to an arid cli­mate. Some trees may grow to a height of two me­ters, their trunks the girth of an adult’s fore­arm. How­ever, their fruits are small and scant. Most trees no longer bear fruit, even though their leaves still flour­ish. Lo­cal pro­fes­sion­als ex­plained that ar­ti­fi­cially planted berry trees of­ten yield more, and their fruits are plumper. In a bid to make pick­ing eas­ier, the height to which saplings grow is con­trolled. Yet al­though wild berry trees bear smaller fruits and yield less, they taste much bet­ter than those that have been planted.

Wild berry trees grow on al­most 66,667 hectares of the Qaidam Basin, of which 227 hectares are in Wu­long­gou. Their nat­u­ral seeds pro­vide am­ple gene va­ri­eties for cul­ti­vat­ing new species. Be­sides, berry trees of more than 200 years old – con­spic­u­ously be­yond the av­er­age age of 35 to 50 years – are still found in the re­gion. And there are also 100 or so trees in Wu­long­gou that are more than 60 years old. It is said that the for­est could have a 1,000-year his­tory.

A hill shaped like a mon­key stands among the trees. According to folk­lore, the Queen Mother of the West, a Taoist god­dess who once lived in this area, or­dered the mon­key to pro­tect the for­est. At har­vest sea­son, the mon­key would of­fer berries as trib­utes to ce­les­tials.

“The Qaidam Basin is one of the na­tive sources of berries, and more than 10 wild va­ri­eties grow here. Among them, the wild black berry is a rare species with a medic­i­nal value far higher than that of other va­ri­eties,” said pres­i­dent of the pre­fec­ture’s berry as­so­ci­a­tion and berry in­dus­try ad­min­is­tra­tion Li Jianxin.

Di­ver­si­fied De­vel­op­ment Mode

Al­though the Qaidam Basin is a na­tive source of berries, no proper in­dus­try formed in the past be­cause only a few small plan­ta­tions ex­isted in Haixi Pre­fec­ture. Since 2008, when the lo­cal Haixi gov­ern­ment named berry­plant­ing as the pri­or­ity in­dus­try for lo­cal de­vel­op­ment, the in­dus­try has made re­mark­able progress.

Gen­er­ally speak­ing, Ningxia Hui Au­ton­o­mous Re­gion dom­i­nates to­day’s

Sev­eral new berry species cul­ti­vated in Haixi in re­cent years strengthen their mar­ket ap­peal.

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