Asia, India, China, Russia

Feel-good story: How a dedicated Chinese potato extension agent turned a ‘desert into land of fortune’

A dry, rainless desert is a nightmare for most farmers, but adequate light and heat that come with it is a blessing for potato growers. And Zhu Hexiang sees it. Zhu is an official at the commerce department of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

A year ago, she was tasked with assisting poverty alleviation work in a village under Yopurga County, some 1,500 km away from the regional capital of Urumqi. Yopurga is located at the western edge of the Taklimakan, the largest desert in China, and local farmers used to grow wheat, cotton and dates.

When Zhu first arrived, 269 out of the 1,054 villagers were from registered low-income families. The local government planned to lift the whole village out of poverty by 2019.

After doing her initial research, Zhu proposed to the villagers to plant 34.9 hectares of potatoes in collaboration with two neighboring poverty-stricken villages. They harvested a whopping 1,300 tonnes of potatoes in the first year alone.

But Zhu was even busier than this. In addition to promoting the online sale of the villagers potatoes, she contacted logistics companies, supermarkets and wholesale markets to garner new sales channels. Thanks to these efforts, an extra income of 45,000 yuan (6,500 U.S. dollars) was generated for each hectare of land that the villagers cultivated.

As winter came, Zhu showed villagers how to grow celery cabbage in the potato fields – a product that was very popular and sold well at local bazaars. Punjabahti Mehmet’s cabbage sold like hot cakes in nearby towns. He also earned 14,000 yuan growing potatoes in the past year, several times the income he earned in previous years.

“We don’t have to worry about the sale of farm products anymore. Everyone in the village is now more motivated than ever to do farm related work,” he said.

Rahman Nasr, like many of his fellow villagers, migrated to work in other towns almost all year. But as he could not speak fluent Mandarin, he worked as a day laborer most of the time with low pay.

“Poverty causes for every household vary. Therefore, I must be very specific and zero in on their specific and individual needs to help them practically according to their individual situations,” Zhu said.

She invited experts from her department to host training classes in the village such as cooking, animal husbandry and domestic cleaning. More than 100 villagers have mastered practical skills through training. They also attended night school to practice Mandarin.

Rahman found a job of stretching noodles at a restaurant in the county using what he learned from a class. The noodles he pulled were even and chewy and received good feedback from customers. He also solicited customers with better Mandarin.

Winter is usually a problem when water is scarce in the village, but not for Zhu. She has huge ambitions for the coming year. Zhu said farming should be further enhanced to bring more income for villagers – the processing of farm products should be speeded up and e-commerce should be introduced to create more jobs.

Source: Xinhua, edited by Potato News Today