Across China: Watermelon brings sweet life to China's Gobi Desert
YINCHUAN, Aug. 28 (Xinhua) -- Liu Zhancun sold a watermelon for 2,000 yuan (279 U.S. dollars) at a fruit auction this summer, 100 times the usual price.
The 15-kg melon soon became a cyber celebrity, and Liu Wengang, father of Liu Zhancun and a melon farmer with over 30 years of experience in northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, wears a big smile reflecting the sweet life brought by his melons.
The Gobi Desert that houses Liu's family in the city of Zhongwei has long been used to grow watermelons, but the yield had been too scarce to feed locals. "It seldom rained, and for generations the place remained poor," recalled Liu Wengang.
The arid climate has now become a blessing. In the 1980s, the local government encouraged residents to lay gravel on top of the sandy earth. "No one expected any positive change, but hope grew unexpectedly from the stones," said Liu Wengang.
The technique drew inspiration from mice. The creatures often put small stones around their burrows to keep them from collapsing, and farmers later found that crops next to the stones always grew better than others.
"Covering sandy earth with gravel can reduce water evaporation and sandstorms, and protect plants from diseases, insects and pests. It is a traditional but scientific method that farmers discovered in the ongoing battle with drought," said Zhang Shouge with the city's agriculture department.
Now watermelons from the Gobi Desert have become a star fruit benefiting from the large discrepancy between day and night temperatures and rich amino acid and other nutrients.
The fruit was even highlighted at the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008 and the Shanghai World Expo in 2009.
Now 90 percent of the 66,700 hectares of gravel land in Zhongwei is used to grow watermelons, which generated an output value of 2.5 billion yuan in 2018 and benefited 280,000 villagers from 141 villages.
"Growing watermelons has become our pillar industry and the per capita annual income has reached 10,000 yuan in the main production zone," said Zhang, adding that local government has worked to standardize its plantation and expand its sales through promotions and setting up outlets.
For 26-year-old Liu Zhancun, he took a further step to plant square watermelons this year.
"The price of a square watermelon is 10 times that of a regular one," said the younger Liu. "Our cooperative is expected to make 3 million yuan this year, three times that of last year. And we plan to expand its scale next year."