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UPDATED: July 2, 2012 NO. 27 JULY 5, 2012
Wonders Out of Stone Cracks
Guizhou Province has explored quite a few efficient ways to deal with stony desertification
By Yuan Yuan

GREEN PEPPERS: Wang Fuchang, a villager in Dingtan County, Guizhou Province, shows the peppers he plants out of the barren stones (YUAN YUAN)

Pepper miracle

Wang Fuchang in Yundongwan Village in Guizhou's Zhenfeng County told Beijing Review that he could earn 50,000 yuan ($7,861) to 60,000 yuan ($9,433) each year planting Chinese peppers.

Experts once considered Zhenfeng totally unfit for human habitation because its expanse of stony deserts. People living in this area survived on 300 tons of government grain allocations every year in the 1990s.

"We tried to plant something here, but it is hard to find even a tiny piece of land," Wang said. "Barren stone cannot hold earth at all."

In 1988, Wang decided to move his family to another place to seek a living as he saw no hope of surviving under such harsh conditions. In the following years, he made a living as an auto mechanic in nearby Anshun City.

In 1999, Luo Zeliang, head of Yundongwan, tried to persuade Wang to move back to the village. "Luo told me that many villagers started planting peppers and made money out of it," said Wang, who didn't believe at first but finally returned with Luo to verify.

"I was surprised to see the big changes of my old neighbors," Wang recalled. "Almost every household planting peppers built up new houses and some even bought vehicles."

Wang moved back in 2000 and started to plant peppers with the help of Luo. In 2001, he made more than 20,000 yuan ($3,147) from peppers and expanded pepper fields from 0.5 to 0.8 hectares the next year.

Besides Wang, now the other 16 families that left Yundongwan in the 1980s and 90s have all moved back.

Hu Mingzhong migrated out of Yundongwan in 1986 and returned in 1996. Now he has more than 3,000 pepper trees and makes more than 60,000 yuan ($9,436) each year.

"Unlike other crops, the roots of pepper trees can stretch deep through the thin layer of earth and into the tight stone cracks," Luo said. "That is why pepper trees can work here pretty well."

Now almost every household in Zhenfeng plants peppers. In Dingtan region of the county, there are more than 4,000 hectares of pepper fields. Their combined annual output has reached 1,700 tons and earns more than 80 million yuan ($12.58 million) for local farmers. The forest coverage rate in the area has climbed to 70 percent from 6.7 percent in the 1970s, according to official statistics.

Moneymaking fruit

Bangui Township in Guanling Buyi and Miao Autonomous County sits at the lower part of the mountains. The local government has explored a new way to tackle poverty triggered by stony desertification—plantation of pitaya, also known as dragon fruit.

In Hongyan Village, the mountains are covered with rows and rows of pitaya trees. "The climate here is very suitable to plant pitaya," said Li Zhigang, Deputy Mayor of Bangui. "It takes three years for a harvest but we can sell it to the market at a very high price."

Plantation of pitaya began in Bangui in 2005. According to Li, Bangui imported the seeds from Taiwan. "It is even less costly than planting peppers, but the profits are much higher. People can make about 10,000 yuan out of 0.06 hectares of land."

At first, villagers were hesitant to switch to planting an exotic-looking fruit they had seldom seen before. The local government then spent about five years teaching and helping villagers to cultivate them and provided financial support.

Huang Yuanzhao in Hongyan Village started the plantation in 2007 with his two brothers and invested 140,000 yuan ($22,005) from their own pockets in it plus another 110,000 yuan ($17,290) loaned from the government. In 2011, their 3.13-hectare plantation, mostly land reclaimed from the bare mountains, garnered more than 200,000 yuan ($31,430).

"It is not just about money made out of the fruits, the scenery of the endless rows of pitaya trees on the mountains can also become a tourist attraction," Li said.

Now more than 40 households in Bangui plant pitaya, covering 67 hectares of farmland. Li said that in the following three to five years, pitaya plantation can be another polar industry in the campaign against stony desertification.

Email us at: yuanyuan@bjreview.com

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