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By Yang Feiyue | China Daily Europe | Updated:2017-02-26 15:06Medicinal plants offer poor communities a green way to prosperityPristine natural conditions and an ideal altitude have turned a formerly isolated county into a major source of herbs. But its beginnings were far from promising.Luquan Yi and Miao autonomous county was once so poor that Qian Shiquan had to leave home to work as a concrete mixer, and then as a construction contractor, because there was no other way to keep his family above water.According to data from 2000, more than 80 percent of Ganhaizi-a community in Luquan county, Yunnan province – lived below the national poverty line, which was set at 1,200 yuan ($173; 164 euros; £141) per year-a figure that was adjusted to 3,000 yuan in 2016.  
YUNNAN Baiyao has developed cooperative relations to secure a stable source of traditional Chinese medicine ingredients.The village did not have proper road access or electricity until 2004.However, Qian was forced to quit his job and return home in 2006 to care for his two young daughters.Thanks to his work experience, he was then chosen as a member of the village committee. Initially, he spent most of his time dealing with village disputes.As for economic opportunity, titanium ore exploration was the rage back then, Qian says. But that didnt last long. The local government soon shut the mining business to protect the local environment and water supplies. So, residents were left with no option but to try to make a living from the land.But, traditional farming was not enough to sustain them.”For one thing, it was difficult to transport the farm produce out of the village. Besides, a ton of potatoes only brought in a little more than 1,000 yuan,” Qian says.Determined to help his family and fellow villagers, Qian then sought more economically viable crops to cultivate. Several visits were made to study agricultural practices in different places.After lots of trial and error, they finally settled on caowu, since the villages high altitude and cold weather provided ideal conditions to grow the herb, which is key for Yunnan Baiyao, a leading producer of traditional Chinese medicines.”We learned that caowu can grow well at an altitude above 2,000 meters above sea level, and our altitude is more than 2,400 meters,” Qian says.So, caowu was introduced, and the community began to grow it in 2009.But things got off to a rough start, due to a lack of technology and experience.”A businessman told us to sow the seeds at the start of spring and cover seeds with plant ash,” Qian said. But strong spring winds dried the land and the alkaline plant ash burned the seeds.Things didnt pick up until 2012, when a proper road to the village was built and the local government brought in agricultural experts to teach the villagers about proper growing methods.Qian set up a rural cooperative in October 2014 to promote mass planting of the herb. Fourteen households joined the venture at the start of 2015, and the local government granted the cooperative 250,000 yuan to buy seeds.First successThe first year was a success. All 14 households saw their annual incomes cross 50,000 yuan; four of them earned more than 100,000 yuan.”Now, with subsidies from the government, residents need to spend only a small amount for planting,” Qian says. One mu (0.07 hectare) yields roughly 600 kilograms of caowu. And gross income from each mu can reach 15,000 yuan, while costs are about 3,000 yuan, Qian says.Qian now earns roughly 100,000 yuan a year from the herb.Given the lucrative results, more than 90 percent of the villagers have now jumped in to grow the herb. Planted area has almost doubled, from 230mu to more than 400mu.Tian Hongyin, 43, is using a roughly 4-mu plot of land to grow caowu since he joined Qians cooperative. He plans to make use of his entire 6 mu holding to grow the herb. Back in the old days, Tian could earn around 4,000 yuan a year from growing potatoes, corn and beans. A large part of his land was used for growing fodder for his cattle and sheep.”I could not afford to pay my two childrens school fees,” Tian says.But, his income jumped to 60,000 to 70,000 yuan in 2015. And, his new two-story house will be ready soon.Another optionMeanwhile, in a related development, Zhang Zhaoyun, a former officer at the Yunnan Academy of Agricultural Sciences who now owns a pesticide company, has found that the land can also be used to grow chonglou, another key TCM ingredient used by Yunnan Baiyao.”I had heard people saying that it is very difficult to grow the herb, so I thought I would give it a shot,” Zhang says.He achieved success when he discovered that a mistake in seed selection was creating a problem.”Some kinds of chonglou love warm weather and lower altitudes say 1,300 meters-while others favor chilly weather and altitudes of more than 2,000 meters above sea level,” Zhang says. “So, if you plant the wrong seeds in the wrong place, of course they will not survive.”Maoshan lies 1,800 meters above sea level, which makes the town perfect for a wide range of varieties. Before Zhang set up his business, residents earned only a few hundred yuan annually from their land.Zhang first rented 349 mu in Maoshan to grow the herb, paying 1,350 yuan per mu. Locals were hired mostly for weeding.”If they work 100 days a year, they can earn 7,000 yuan,” Zhang says. Now, 1 mu can earn more than 300,000 yuan.Zhang recently developed another 400 mu to grow the herb, in an area that is 1.5 kilometers away from the earlier plot.The rosy prospects for chonglou have spurred a growing number of villagers to work with Zhang, and he has agreed to offer seedlings and technical management to residents in exchange for roughly 30 percent of their output.In a related development, Zhang reached an agreement with Yunnan Baiyao under which all the herbs grown by the residents will be purchased by the company.”They do not have to worry about their produce being bought,” he says.Further down the road, Zhang has plans to make inroads downstream by developing health products containing chonglou. He hopes his business will be worth 400 million yuan by 2019.Stable sourceFrom Yunnan Baiyaos point of view, having a stable source of ingredients for its TCM products means developing ties with counties and villages nearby. Luquan is one of them.According to company director Lu Hongdong, Yunnan Baiyao is in the process of determining which herbs it wants the villagers to grow, the size of cultivation area and the standards it wants maintained.Speaking about the relationship between the company and the villagers, Lv Huaiyu, deputy head of Luquan county, says: “We pay close attention to Yunnan Baiyaos needs.”Rural cooperatives manage the plantations and unskilled laborers do the fieldwork. The cooperatives then make purchases after the medicinal plants are harvested and sell them to Yunnan Baiyao.Luquans herbal plantations are growing steadily and increasing numbers of workers are benefiting from the change.yangfeiyue@chinadaily.com.cnPhotoChinas first killer whale breeding base put into operationFather and son unite in war against weightIce sculptures in NE China begin to melt as temperature risesHeavy snow bogs down expressway traffic in SW ChinaChinese acrobatic troupe set new Guinness world recordCall of love: Couple entrepreneursLatestFather and son unite in war against weightChinas first killer whale breeding base put into operationLocal legislative meetings raise expectations for Chinas growthA Chinese factory workers long run to BostonIce sculptures in NE China begin to melt as temperature risesState Council NewsPrivate investment often a concern of Premier LiChina to encourage private investment in social sectorsExclusiveChina sees biggest overseas returning wave in recent yearsSurvey portrays confidence and concerns of ChineseXis vision of media: Responsible, innovative, globalEditors picksRaising a smile with nothing but a selfieXi outlines vision of deepening reformTen photos you dont wanna missTen photos from across China: Feb 17 – 23SpecialCircuit courts in ChinaSpring Festival travel rushBACK TO THE TOPHOMECHINAWORLDBUSINESSLIFESTYLECULTURETRAVELWATCHTHISSPORTSOPINIONREGIONALFORUMNEWSPAPERChina Daily PDFChina Daily E-paperMOBILECopyright 1995 -var oTime = new Date();
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