YINCHUAN, Dec. 3 (Xinhua) — An early winter sun shined on glossy, green screw peppers clutching the vines of a hillside greenhouse as Liu Guangjie, with a smile of contentment, looked on knowing harvest was just around the corner.
The 45-year-old farmer owns three pepper greenhouses in Pengyang County of northwest China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, with each bringing him a net profit of over 10,000 yuan (about 1,524 U.S. dollars) last year.
“The pepper-picking period will last until next July,” Liu said, standing on a stool to reach the higher branches.
Located within the hills and gullies of the Loess Plateau, Pengyang boasts a cool, highland climate suitable for growing the crop. The county has been called the “home of peppers” since it was accredited by China’s agricultural authorities in 2008.
Liu used to grow peppers in open fields, but the yield was poor. Life was hard at that time, as the middle-aged farmer with a disability in his left arm knew little about planting technology, in addition to supporting his parents and children. In 2014, his household was registered as impoverished.
In recent years, Pengyang has established pepper planting as a leading industry for poverty alleviation, with the county government making a development plan to encourage local farmers to grow anti-season peppers in greenhouses.
On top of that, agrotechnicians have also been dispatched to villages to provide farmers with guidance on growing peppers.
“When field peppers are being uprooted after harvest, the greenhouse peppers are coming into season. They perfectly fill the gap in the market and are more profitable,” said Gao Yu, a 53-year-old agrotechnician who has been guiding local farmers to grow peppers for over two decades.
The Liu family has benefited from anti-season pepper growing since 2015 when Liu received three greenhouses from the local government free of charge. They also moved into a new house from their previous cave dwelling.
In half a decade, the once impoverished household shook off poverty and now has modern home appliances, such as a flat-screen TV set, refrigerator and washing machine.
“Our life is no different than those living in cities,” Liu said.
Statistics show that the total pepper growing area in Pengyang has exceeded 2,600 hectares with an annual output of over 100,000 tonnes. The pepper industry brought farmers about 2,000 yuan, or over 20 percent, in their per capita net income by the end of 2019.
“Many villagers are making more money by growing greenhouse peppers,” Gao said.
In Pengyang, there are also more than 50 “pepper agents” who purchase peppers from farmers at a fair price and find a larger market for the quality products of the mountainous area.
About 90 percent of the total pepper production in Pengyang is sold outside Ningxia. Since June this year, some 200 tonnes of fresh peppers have been transported every day from the county to cities including Xi’an, Yinchuan and Lanzhou.
Lin Wankai is one of the “pepper agents” who returned to his hometown after graduating from college. He contracted 30 greenhouses in 2014 and founded his own company four years later.
“Fresh peppers are easy to sell, and dried peppers that were harvested late can still be used to make chili sauce,” Lin said.
He has purchased over 400 tonnes of such dried peppers from local farmers this year and is planning to transport them to central China’s Hunan Province, known for spicy food, for further processing.
Pengyang is extending the pepper industry chain by establishing seedling cultivation bases, refrigerated warehouses and wholesale markets.
“Growing peppers has spiced up farmers’ lives, and is only getting better and better,” Gao said.