How navel orange lifts people out of poverty in Jiangxi
Despite its traditional beginnings as an agrarian society, China has transformed into the world's second largest economy in recent decades. Yet the wealth gap between its urban and rural households still exists.
Making poverty alleviation his top priority, Chinese President Xi Jinping has stressed that industrial development is fundamental to the government's war on rural poverty. By deploying market-oriented mechanisms in agriculture and developing industries according to local conditions, China is edging closer to its goal of rooting out poverty by 2020.
So far, more than sixty-eight million people have been lifted out of poverty in five years’ time. Here is someone who has experienced that change – by growing oranges.
Nestling in the rugged mountains of southeast China's Jiangxi Province, Ruijin is generally regarded as the cradle of the Chinese revolution, since this county-level city once served as the base of the Communist party in the 1930s and played a crucial role in the formation of modern China.
But as well as its historical significance, Ruijin has something else to be proud of: its navel oranges.
Ruijin-based farmer Deng Daqing examines the navels oranges on the branches on December 20, 2017. [Photo: China Plus/ Li Shiyu]
Deng Daqing is a local farmer in his early sixties.
Strolling through his two hectares of orange groves, this stout man breaks off dead twigs and carefully examines the plump, heavy fruit on the branches.
"In 2012, I planted eight hundred navel orange trees. Then in 2014, when those trees bore fruit for the first time, I made 30 thousand yuan, (roughly 4,700 US dollars).” Deng counts on his fingers, “Over the next two years, my earnings doubled each year. In 2017, I earned more than 200 thousand yuan, (or 31 thousand US dollars), by growing navel oranges. "
Entertaining visitors with a giant plate of his sliced oranges, Deng Daqing can't stop enthusing about his latest harvest and from time to time, bursts out laughing. It's hard to imagine that this bright, cheery man was once trapped in a cycle of deep trouble.
"Before I grew orange trees, I considered myself a seasoned fruit farmer. In 1998, I started growing green plums, a must-have when making candied peel. At that time, young people were leaving home to find work. People who stayed grew traditional crops such as rice, peanuts and sweet potatoes, which are low in efficiency. I wanted to change that. I thought growing plums might make more money. But the results weren't very good. Still hopeful, I invested more in plum farming the following year. But I failed again and lost more than 200 thousand yuan (or 32 thousand US dollars)."
Deng Daqing shows CRI reporter the freshly picked oranges on December 20, 2017. [Photo: China Plus/ Li Shiyu]
To recoup his loss, Deng tried to grow Valencia oranges, a type of citrus fruit used for juicing. But because this fruit from America wasn't popular with the Chinese market back then, his attempt to end his poverty was thwarted once again.
"Life is unpredictable and you never know what's coming next. In 2011, I was so poor that I was thin and I got a bone disease that made me almost unable to walk. I became handicapped. Then due to various diseases that attacked my kidney and bile duct, I had to go into hospital four times in one year. In 2011, I incurred 300 thousand yuan of debt."
Deng Daqing’s wife Zhu Luanfang takes stock of their latest harvest on December 20, 2017. [Photo: China Plus/ Li Shiyu]
Recalling those difficult years, Deng's wife Zhu Luanfang would keep repeating the phase: there's nothing for it.
"Business failed and there's nothing for it. Living on the breadline, I felt quite hopeless." She says.
But hope was not something her husband couldn't easily give up.
"I am a very proud man. There was some tittle-tattle in the village that I had become a pauper. Those words hurt my pride. I didn't want to be tarred with that brush. Then local officials told me the government would help me out and assured me that one day, I would shake off my poverty. "
Borrowing money from his family and friends, Deng Daqing travelled across several provinces for two months to investigate the market. After talking with farmers and experts, he decided to try his hand at growing navel oranges, a fruit that would eventually help him get back on an even keel.
On the very edge of the Longhu Village, Deng Daqing talks with other farmers who are waiting for the trucks to pick up their inventory on December 20, 2017. [Photo: China Plus/ Li Shiyu]
Lai Xiaohua is the head agronomist at the Bureau of Fruit Industry in Ganzhou, a government agency overseeing the entire fruit industry in the region, including Ruijin. He explains how growing navel oranges has become a sound solution for alleviating Deng’s poverty.
"Southern Jiangxi provides the optimum conditions for navel orange trees. So as there's a big population with less arable land, we encourage farmers to utilize barren mountains and wasteland. We have already developed an integrated production chain, from seedling distribution and plant care to fruit sorting and packaging. Farmers don't need to worry about logistics cost or marketing. Depending on the circumstances of each household, the government will provide technical training to low-income families. At the same time, we help them out with a series of loans."
Using the e-commerce platform and smart phone to his advantages, Deng Daqing has opened an online store on WeChat, a popular Chinese multi-function messaging and social networking app. [Photo: China Plus/ Li Shiyu]
Buoyed by local authorities, Deng secured a loan from the bank and planted more than 800 orange trees in the grove. Three years later, by selling fruit, he brought in 30 thousand yuan, a number far exceeding the national poverty threshold of 2,300 yuan a year.
"One day, I happened to notice that someone in my village was sending oranges by express delivery. I got curious and asked around. The guy told me he sells oranges online. I got interested and asked my son to help me build an online store. "
Using the e-commerce platform to his advantage, Deng's income has grown significantly while his business has expanded nation-wide.
Yet this fruit farmer is unwilling to reap the benefits alone.
"When helpers are needed for harvesting, I always look for people who come from low-income households. Because I know what it's like when you can't feed yourself and your family. Many people reached out when I was in need, now it's time for me to return the favour. If people work for my orchard, they can earn more than the average.”
Now, following the steps of Deng Daqing, many local villagers have started to expand their business and sent their productions by express delivery. [Photo: China Plus/Li Shiyu]
Deng further explains: “In 2016, I worked with the party branch in the village to found an agricultural cooperative. As well as cheaper fertilizers, our cooperative also provides unified management, training, pest prevention and marketing for poverty-stricken families. I teach people, not only from my village, but also from elsewhere, to sell their products online."
According to Deng, since 2016, 42 households in his village have been lifted out of poverty by selling navel oranges.
Statistics show that developing navel oranges has been the most efficient way of alleviating poverty in southern Jiangxi province, where there is there's a big population with less arable land. [Photo: China Plus/ Li Shiyu]
In the eyes of senior official Lai Xiaohua, developing the economy according to local conditions is the key to winning the war against poverty.
"So far, developing navel oranges has been the most efficient way of alleviating poverty here. In 2016, the total output of this industry in southern Jiangxi was 11 billion yuan, (or 1.7 billion US dollars). This industry has increased incomes for nearly 700 thousand fruit farmers while offering jobs to a million rural residents. "