Medicinal herb a prescription for success in mountain village

CHONGQING, Nov. 19 (Xinhua) — In late autumn, herbalists in southwest China’s Quanxiu Village are busy digging costus roots and baking them to serve as an ingredient of herbal medicine. The aroma that wafts all around the herb base situated at an altitude of 2,000 meters has been enriching their life for decades.

With an area of over 1,333 hectares, the base is located in Guanmian Township of Kaizhou District, Chongqing Municipality. It sits centrally in the Three Gorges Reservoir Region, the main production area for nearly 100 kinds of officinal herbs in the country.

Quanxiu Village, famous as the “Village of Costus Root,” produces 25 percent of the herb in China. The root has long been used to relieve pain.

The high altitude and low temperature in the village help enhance the quality of the root above industry standards.

Trucks driving along the mountain roads arrive one after another to carry away these dull roots which have helped improve the lives of local villagers for years.

Decades ago, villagers could barely sustain themselves due to scarcity of arable land in the isolated mountain area.

“Deep in the mountains lies my home and farmland. I work in the field for a whole year, but the grain I reap can hardly support my family for half year…” This ballad once popular among villagers speaks volumes about their living conditions in the past.

In the 1960s, a villager took back seeds of costus roots from Yunnan Province. The plant grew much better than grain, and more villagers began to farm it.

Growing costus root developed into an industry in the village, but inconvenient transportation made it difficult for the product to reach the market. In harvesting season, villagers had to climb the mountains in the misty morning with over 50 kg of daily necessities on their backs, and it usually took them seven hours to reach the base.

“The harvesting season usually lasts for several months, and we had to live on the cliff until all roots were dug out,” 71-year-old Tang Shaoquan recalled, adding that they also had to carry the herbs down the mountains.

In 2008, the village surrounded by cliffs built a road for the herb farmers. But due to unfavorable terrain and lack of investment it was too narrow for trucks.

China’s targeted poverty-alleviation program reached the remote area in 2017. To make herbal medicine a reliable cash cow for locals, the Chongqing government has kept improving village infrastructure such as roads and running water.

With government support, the narrow road in Quanxiu Village was upgraded and provided direct access to the costus root base in 2019.

“Now trucks can drive directly to the base to transport our herbs. We don’t have to carry them again,” said 64-year-old Li Mianyou.

According to Ma Lindong, head of the Guanmian Township, the sea of purple costus root flowers in May is breathtaking. The local government helped Quanxiu Village build a sightseeing footpath around the base, which attracted a large number of tourists.

Local villager Peng Guizhong has changed his house into a homestay for tourists. He also grows over three hectares of costus roots and sells costus root-flower honey. These businesses bring him an annual income of 160,000 yuan (about 24,340 U.S. dollars).

Kaizhou District also started an expo last year to popularize herbal medicine produced in the Three Gorges Reservoir region. In the second expo this year, contracts worth over 10.5 billion yuan were signed with big companies from Beijing, Shanghai and countries such as Malaysia.

Official data shows that herbs grown over 23,000 hectares in Kaizhou District yielded an annual revenue of 1 billion yuan in 2019. Now the industry has become a sustainable cash cow for nearly 30,000 villagers.

According to Ma, the local government plans to introduce more technologies, develop new business entities, and extend the industrial chain in the future. “This way we can hold the pricing power of the product and our villagers can earn more,” Ma said.

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