Agro-technicians lead villagers to wealth in Zhejiang
Zhejiang Province in eastern China is one of the country’s economic powerhouses. [Photo: vcg]
Agriculture and the rural regions of China have always played a crucial role in both feeding the world’s largest population and providing quality farm products.
But behind this success are the untold stories of the hard work and devotion of millions of farmers, farm managers, and yes, agricultural technicians.
One afternoon, at one o’clock, Song Xinqi from Beituan Village, Haiyan County, Zhejiang Province, was riding his electric bike to see someone. He was anxious.
“If I have a problem, I go and ask Wan Fuxiang for help. I have been working with him since 2003. I have my own aloe processing factory. Before that I had only planted two Mu of aloe. Now it’s expanded to 90 Mu of greenhouses.”
A Mu is a traditional Chinese measurement for area. Ninety Mu equals six hectares.
Song has been planting aloe for 14 years. In all of that time, if he’s ever had a problem, it’s Wan who he goes to for help.
Sixty-one-year-old Wan is a member of the Qinshan Town Agricultural Technical Service Station in Haiyan County.
Eighteen years ago, at the age of 43, he was appointed deputy head of the service station.
His family thought the work at the station would be easy and well-paid. What they didn’t realize was that Wan had more ambitious intentions than just sticking to the status quo.
Wan set his sights on planting aloe, to which all of his family objected. But Wan insisted.
“At that time I wanted to plant aloe. You know, the value of traditional agriculture in the Qinshan area was very low. The price of cabbage dropped to as low as 0.1 yuan a kilo, only to be left rotting in the field. I wanted to change the situation.
“You can earn an average of 2,000 yuan per Mu from traditional farming. But new, more efficient farming methods can make you 15,000 to 20,000 yuan per Mu. In other words, you can make about ten times more than you sticking to traditional farming, like planting cabbages.”
With this plan in mind, in May, 2000, Wan Fuxiang got down to work. He rented 1.3 acres of land and planted aloe on it. Unfortunately it didn’t go too well at first.
“We planted the aloe in mid to late June. It’s very hot in that season. Two months later, all the seedlings had withered. I thought it was finished. I felt like I was under a lot of pressure, and couldn’t sleep or eat properly because I was so worried.”
Wan visited local bookstores to try and find a solution to his problems with research, but it was in vain. He then went to Shanghai, more than 100 kilometers away, for help.
The farmer-technician finally got some assistance from aloe specialists at the Shanghai Jiao Tong University, one of China’s best higher learning institutes.
With what he had learned from them, Wan managed to turn his aloe green and at last it grew well. At the end of that year, his aloe crop sold for 13,000 yuan, which was a handsome income.
With this initial success, in 2003, Wan Fuxiang set up the Qinwan Aloe Cooperative with 15 local villagers to expand his business and help locals make money.
Within the cooperative, villagers provide labor and land while Wan Fuxiang and his technical team provide technical support, sales strategies and management expertise.
Now 15 years has passed since the founding of the cooperative; and the area of the land used for cultivating aloe has increased from 1.3 acres to a whopping 200 acres.
The cooperative doesn’t now just plant aloe. It has developed some 70 kinds of aloe drinks and promoted sight-seeing agro-tourism.
Overall, there are 157 members in the cooperative and Baituan Village, where it’s based, has become one of the richest villages in Haiyan County.
At the age of 61, Wan Fuxiang says he has also other plans in mind.
“Next, we will expand the cultivation area for aloe. We intend to increase it to between 300 and 800 acres within five years. We’ll launch an aloe cosmetics company. What I want to do is to lead our villagers to wealth through my business.”
Wan is actually a native agricultural technician and businessman. Meanwhile, there are many of his fellow workers who have been sent by the government from cities to work in the villages.
Jin Meisong is formally a member of the Hangzhou-based Zhejiang Academy of Agricultural Sciences.
But he has now been working for 14 years at Wuyi County, some 200 kilometers away from Hangzhou.
When we met him, Jin was teaching villagers how to remove the core of the lotus seeds with a newly invented tool in Jinchuan Village, which is inhabited by the ethnic She minority people.
Processing lotus seeds is hard work that the villagers have to do every year before they sell the products as food or medicine.
Removing the core is the most arduous and time-consuming part of the process.
Following Jin’s proposal, a semi-automatic tool has recently been invented by his parent employer—the Zhejiang Academy of Agricultural Sciences.
Drawing on the Pneumatic Nail Gun used by carpenters, the tool made removing the core from the seed far more efficient.
Jin Meisong says the tool is a “revolution” in the lotus seed business.
“Our tool is actually a small revolution in the whole lotus seed industry. If it can be promoted, villagers working in this industry will reap great benefits.”
Fourteen years ago, Jin was one of the 100-strong technical team sent by the Zhejiang Provincial government to work in Liuchengshezu Town, a main production base for lotus seeds known as Xuanlian.
With his first-hand experience, Jin learnt that although Xuanlian was of high quality, its output was low, which meant low incomes for local villagers.
To improve the situation, Jin and several of his fellow technicians travelled to other areas to find high-yield lotus seeds.
After several visits, they finally found one variety in the city of Jiande.
The seed is called Shilihe Number 1, which Jin says has indeed fared well in Liuchengshezu Town.
“At that time, the Shilihe Number 1 wasn’t mass planted in Jiande. After we introduced it to our area, unexpectedly, its yield was higher than it had been when it was grown in Jiande. Now almost all our villagers plant this type of lotus seed.”
Currently, more than 5,000 acres of this variety of lotus seed are planted across the southern hilly regions of Wuyi County.
Local villagers have in total earned at least 48 million yuan, or 7.6 million US dollars, from it.
To develop the lotus seed industry further, in 2005, Jin Meisong started a project to build a demonstration park of Shilihe series lotuses.
The park now grows hundreds of different types of lotuses. Each summer, large crowds of tourists flock to the park, bringing additional income to local villagers.
Zhu Shuzhen is one of the beneficiaries.
“Each lotus seedpod can sell for three to five yuan. In the peak season, hundreds of kilos of seedpods can get sold out each day.”
With the booming local lotus industry, Jin Meisong is planning to revive another local agricultural product— kiwi fruit.
“I recently spent a lot of time on kiwi fruit. I want to improve the quality of the fruit and the overall industry in as short a time as possible. I’m experimenting with grafting to improve the quality.”
With all these years working at grassroots level, the expert from the Zhejiang Academy of Agricultural Sciences says he’s proud of his experience and association with local villagers.
“I really think that agriculture, the countryside and farmers need assistance from the outside world. I have developed a deep affection for the villages where I have worked and the villagers who I have served. If they ever need help in the future, I’ll always be at their disposal.”