Res­i­dents make suc­cess­ful switch to agri­cul­ture, tourism busi­nesses

China Daily (Latin America Weekly) - - China - By LI HONGYANG in Yichun, Hei­longjiang li­hongyang@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Sixty years ago, Yichun, the so-called for­est cap­i­tal of China, was thriv­ing thanks to its vast wood­land. Day af­ter day, its trees were felled and loaded onto trains bound for mar­kets across the coun­try.

As a re­sult, the once-boun­ti­ful green land in north­west­ern Hei­longjiang prov­ince was vir­tu­ally laid bare by the 1990s.

City author­i­ties, see­ing eco­log­i­cal catas­tro­phe ahead, slowly be­gan shrink­ing the lum­ber in­dus­try, and over the past two decades they have led a painful tran­si­tion to a more sus­tain­able way of life.

Last year, for­est coverage in Yichun reached 84.4 per­cent, up by 17 per­cent­age points over that of 1978, ac­cord­ing to the Yichun gov­ern­ment.

Liu Jin­guo, a 58-year-old forestry worker, re­called the log­ging in­dus­try’s boom times when he was a child. He said he rarely saw his fa­ther, who left early and re­turned late from his job in the tim­ber­land.

“My fa­ther and his col­leagues were busy then,” Liu said. “They planted trees in spring and felled old trees in win­ter. Some­times, he worked in tem­per­a­tures be­low -30 C, and his boots would be stuck to his pants by frozen sweat.

“The tim­ber they felled was used for build­ing projects na­tion­wide,” he said, adding that Yichun con­trib­uted a lot to the early days of re­form and open­ing-up, when China be­gan a mas­sive con­struc­tion drive. In the past six decades, the city has pro­duced more than 200 mil­lion cu­bic me­ters of tim­ber.

“If we con­nected all this tim­ber to­gether, the length would be equal to go­ing around the Earth and the moon seven times,” Gao Huan, the city’s Party sec­re­tary, told Peo­ple’s Daily in Septem­ber.

Af­ter years of ef­fort to re­duce log­ging, Yichun an­nounced in 2011 that it would per­ma­nently halt the prac­tice. It re­leased a guide­line on eco­log­i­cal pro­tec­tion and eco­nomic re­struc­tur­ing. Within two years, all com­mer­cial log­ging had banned.

Be­cause the sec­tor had em­ployed nearly a third of the pop­u­la­tion, the city en­dured tough times and it shifted its eco­nomic base. Fam­i­lies on low in­comes have worked to de­velop for­est agri­cul­ture to make a liv­ing.

Wu Jingzhi, a forestry worker in Yichun’s Meixi district, be­gan plant­ing black fun­gus in 2000. De­spite hav­ing lit­tle ex­pe­ri­ence, she in­vested her fam­ily’s en­tire sav­ings — 10,000 yuan ($1,440) — in the project.

“The lo­cal gov­ern­ment gave us lots of sup­port. Peo­ple who were will­ing to plant black fun­gus could use farm­land free. Raw ma­te­ri­als were also of­fered free,” she said.

“Few peo­ple were will­ing to do this at that time. I’m a Party mem­ber, and I felt I should play a lead­ing role. I bought books and went to Jilin prov­ince to learn tech­niques. I did my best and fi­nally saw good re­sults, which en­cour­aged other vil­lagers to fol­low suit.”

Wu made about 5,000 yuan in profit the first year. More re­cently she has been earn­ing an av­er­age of 50,000 yuan a year. Yichun now has al­most 2,000 green­houses grow­ing black fun­gus.

The city’s eco­nomic pil­lar has grad­u­ally shifted to green in­dus­tries — to or­ganic foods such as blue­ber­ries and pine nuts, and to free-range pigs. Last year, nearly 50 per­cent of the city’s GDP came from for­est foods, wood art and tourism, the city gov­ern­ment said.

Long Shi­rong, a sales man­ager at Yilin Group, which makes for­est prod­ucts, said: “Yichun is in the Lesser Khin­gan Moun­tains, which has mil­lions of hectares of for­est. It has many rare re­sources, its air is full of neg­a­tive ions, its wa­ter has never been pol­luted by fac­to­ries and its black soil is fer­tile. Green food has a promis­ing fu­ture here.”

How­ever, Wang Zhongfu, man­ager of Yichun Zhong­meng Food Co, said brand recog­ni­tion is a prob­lem: “Right now, few peo­ple know any Yichun brands. We haven’t been good at mar­ket­ing. There’s no lead­ing or gi­ant com­pany in the city. Also, young tal­ented peo­ple who left for stud­ies or jobs have not been at­tracted back.”

The tourism in­dus­try could help with that last prob­lem, said Huang Xiaoyan, man­ager of Yichun Tourism Group.

Yichun’s nat­u­ral land­scape attracts many vis­i­tors each year, which cre­ates a pre­dictable mar­ket. Last year, the city’s tourism in­dus­try gen­er­ated an in­come of 11.3 bil­lion yuan, up from 2.5 bil­lion yuan in 2010.

“When vis­i­tors come, they can take our green prod­ucts home with them,” Wang said. “Com­pared with cut­ting down trees, tourism doesn’t give peo­ple quick money, but it does give res­i­dents an in­ex­haustible source of in­come. Un­like be­fore, we’re now de­vel­op­ing on the ba­sis of pro­tec­tion, not de­struc­tion.”

Tian Xue­fei con­trib­uted to this story.

PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY

A worker har­vests black fun­gus at a pro­duc­tion base in Yichun, Hei­longjiang prov­ince.

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