Across China: Tech-loaded greenhouses in Gobi boost profit for farmers
LANZHOU, July 16 (Xinhua)-- Growing crops had never been a profitable business for the farmers of Shahe village, in the waterless and desolated Gobi desert of northwest China's Gansu Province.
"The land was so barren that most villagers had no choice but to leave their hometown to make a living," recalled Fan Lide, a villager of Shahe who has worked as a plumber, mechanic, and taxi-driver in other provinces.
"We expected to transform our hometown from a wasteland to farmland. However, this only seemed to be a daydream without money and proper technology," Fan said.
In 2009, Suzhou District in Jiuquan City, where Shahe village is located, launched a program to build greenhouses in the desert, aiming to enable farmers to grow cash crops such as vegetables, edible fungi, and grapes.
Farming in the Gobi desert has its advantages: the extended amount of sunlight provides adequate energy for crops, a significant temperature difference between day and night helps crops accumulate nutrients, and the Gobi's hot and dry air means fewer pests and crop diseases.
The first group of 50 greenhouses built by the district took up around 800 hectares; Fan rented four to grow tomatoes and chilies.
The greenhouses are loaded with all kinds of technologies, including soilless cultivation, integrated water and fertilization controls, as well as remote phone app controls.
With an app called "Greenhouse Manager," Fan can monitor and control the environment in the greenhouses by adjusting all kinds of sensors installed on his phone.
For example, with a tap on the screen, the insulation layer on the roof of the greenhouse can open automatically to let in more fresh air.
"I can also see the real-time temperature and humidity in the greenhouses or send a command to irrigate and fertilize the crops," Fan said.
The Gobi greenhouses use drip and spray irrigation, which can cut water consumption by almost 50 percent compared to a normal farm, according to Yan Shengjun, an agricultural adviser who serves as a consultant for the local farmers.
The greenhouses are also eco-friendly, as they use substrates for soilless cultivation recycled from rotten leaves, straw, and cow and sheep feces.
More than 70 percent of the straw and around 82% of plastic waste and rotten leaves in Suzhou District are decontaminated and recycled in the greenhouses, according to local statistics.
"Each hectare of the greenhouses can recycle around 600 cubic meters of agricultural waste," Yan said, "The waste serves as organic fertilizer, helping to improve the quality of the vegetables."
With the greenhouses, Fan earns around 70,000 yuan (about 10,500 U.S. dollars) annually.
"Vegetables produced in the greenhouses are harvested twice or three times a year. As organic food gets more popular in the market, our income also increases," Fan added.
Data from Suzhou District show the greenhouse program has helped bring an average revenue of about 72,300 U.S. dollars per hectare to local farmers. Plans to build more agricultural facilities in the Gobi desert are underway, according to officials.