Feature: Chinese farmers cash in on sweet potatoes
SHIJIAZHUANG, March 1 (Xinhua) -- For farmer Zhao Chunpo, sweet potatoes are bad memory of the past, but good fortune today.
Zhao, a farmer in Qiuxian County in Handan City, north China's Hebei Province, said he ate so many sweet potatoes when he was young that the sight of them nauseated him.
"I grew up planting sweet potatoes with my family. During the difficult times, sweet potatoes were a life-saver for the poor," Zhao said. "I swore that I would never touch sweet potatoes again. Now the irony kicks back. I never expected that they would bring me fortune."
Zhao grows two hectares of sweet potatoes and earns more than 80,000 yuan (about 12,690 U.S. dollars) a year.
"Ordinary sweet potatoes sell at less than 1 yuan per kilogram, but ours can fetch 24 yuan per kilo because their shape, smell and taste are finer and better," he said.
"The seedlings for what farmers call Qiuxian honeyed sweet potato are imported from Japan. After seedling, detoxication and rounds of planting and improvement, the taste gets finer," said Ma Jianbo, director of a farmers cooperative in Qiuxian County. "People like to spend more on fine food, and our sweet potatoes cater to their tastes."
During the recent Chinese Lunar New Year holiday, Zhao and other farmers in the cooperative visited neighboring villages to inquire whether they had spare land to contract.
"This particular kind of sweet potato sells for five times more than cotton or wheat. It also requires less labor than cotton or wheat. Farmers work from April to October every year, and can still find time to take care of their grandchildren," Ma said.
From January to October last year, the cooperative produced 5 million kilograms of sweet potatoes. Online orders reach over 1,250 kilograms a day.
"Online orders are only 30 percent of our total sales. Everybody talks about supply-side reform, this is the right type of reform. We do not worry about whether they will sell well. Farmers are trying their best to expand their fields," said Guo Yuehua, a sweet potato grower.
The report delivered at the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in October last year stressed the implementation of the rural revitalization strategy and poverty alleviation across the country.
China has released a package of policies for the rural revitalization strategy. The policies includes higher-quality agricultural development, protection of natural and cultural resources, and ensuring the quality of poverty-reduction.
It also aims for better rural governance, strengthened leadership of the CPC, better education and medical services, improved infrastructure and living facilities such as toilets, reforms on land use and collective property rights, and more training and incentives to build a stronger team to support rural development.
In Qiuxian County, the sweet plants have become a catalyst for change and vitality.
"We are building our hometown into a town of sweet potatoes, with a museum, baking house and sweet potato-themed paintings and exhibitions," Zhao said.
There are 1,066 hectares of high-quality sweet potato fields in Qiuxian County.
The county plans to spend 14 million yuan (about 2.28 million dollars) to build a seedling base and develop new irrigation and farming technology.
"I never earned so much money from the field. I planted 3.33 hectares last year, this year I'm getting 1.3 hectares more. I'm going full steam ahead," Guo said.