China’s Rural Vitalization >  Features

Enjoying fruits of their labor

CHINA DAILY, August 10, 2020
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Residents of the Zhuang ethnic group in Helyu village in Laibin, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, sing and dance to celebrate their harvest. WANG KAIHAO/CHINA DAILY

To rent each hectare of land, the cooperatives pay the villagers an extra 15,000 yuan a year.

More than 300 greenhouses have been set up in Helyu village, covering about 23 hectares. Growing one hectare of cantaloupe can earn up to 540,000 yuan.

"The farms have offered 150 regular working positions for local villagers," Li says. "And because at least 200 people are required during the harvests, 50 temporary positions are available over those periods."

Three retail stores have opened in nearby towns to sell the village's products. Last year, sales of Helyu cantaloupes reached about 5 million yuan, and one-third of the melons were exported to Vietnam, according to Li.

"I have heard that there are cantaloupes produced elsewhere that get sold using our brand," Li says, with a wry smile. "I suppose that the counterfeits are proof of our popularity."

To ensure quality, only one cantaloupe was grown on each vine, and skillful growers in the village are invited to join the cooperatives. As a leading grower of crops in the village, 44-year-old He Kaifan is now a manager of the farm.

"People now have more ways to earn money," He says. "By working hard on the farm, a better life can be achieved."

He's family earned 200,000 yuan in 2019, including salaries derived from one of the cantaloupe-growing cooperatives and the accompanying bonuses. The family enjoys additional income from growing mushrooms and raising pigs.

Inspired by the success of the cantaloupes, more varieties of fruits are grown by the cooperatives, including tangerines, plums and passion fruit. The rocketing pork price has also turned the village's 15,000 pigs into cash cows.

By 2019, the average annual per capita income in Helyu village had reached 8,740 yuan, and only eight people, or 0.13 percent of its population, were still classed as living under the poverty line, now defined as an annual income of 3,900 yuan.

"Each year, dozens of villagers choose to return and join our cooperative," Li says excitedly. "When more working opportunities are created here, people will be more willing to make contributions to their village."

But, the fruitful workers of the village are facing a new challenge.

Due to COVID-19, which caused some factories to put the brakes on their operations in the first half of the year, demand for the fruit fell. According to Li, last year, each kilogram of cantaloupes was worth up to 7 yuan wholesale, with a 30 percent retail markup. This year, however, they have not sold for more than 5 yuan per kilo.

Li and his colleagues soon responded by contacting more canteens of government and public institutions in a bid to safeguard the growth of the newly formed industry.

Sales of Helyu's cantaloupes reached about 2 million yuan in the first half of 2020.

"I believe the rebound of the economy in the second half of the year will keep our sales at the same level as last year," Li says confidently.

Li was supposed to stay in Helyu for a two-year term, but he has voluntarily extended his stay twice.

"There's a big picture to draw upon when rooted in the countryside and doing something beneficial for the villagers," he says. "As long as I feel I am needed, it's natural to continue my service here."

Rural tourism is the new path leading to prosperity. A new Tropic of Cancer theme park was set up in the village, enabling visitors to experience the leisurely picking of fruits and enjoying food closer to nature.

Still, Li keeps trying to think of new methods of promoting the cantaloupes to a wider market. A new retail store is planned to open soon in downtown Laibin, and the booming e-commerce industry has created new revenue stream for the villagers. However, the quality of their cantaloupe has brought a new threshold.

"You know, our cantaloupes are delicious because they are crunchy," he says. "The problem is, however, that they may be too crunchy to be shipped long distances by express couriers without splitting. To enlarge our market, that's the next puzzle we have to solve."

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