Stony land spices up farmers’ lives

GUIYANG, Nov. 12 (Xinhua) — Liang Yongxiu, a farmer from the southwestern province of Guizhou, is an expert in looking after Sichuan pepper trees on mountains that used to be barren.

The 55-year-old never imagined that the once stony desert in his hometown could become fertile to grow the plant which is a signature spice of Chinese cuisine.

The stony expanse has been a decades-long pain for Dingtan, Beipanjiang Township, Zhenfeng County, where bare rocks covered over 95 percent of the land.

Despite a river within sight, farmers faced severe water shortage. Villagers could barely sustain themselves especially during years of severe drought, said Gou Mingke, the town chief, adding that it was common during the 1980s and 1990s.

The barren land had led to grinding poverty as few crops could survive and farmers struggled for a normal harvest.

In 1992, Zhenfeng County put forward the idea of growing Sichuan pepper to help farmers shake off poverty.

“Sichuan pepper grows well in a calcium-rich environment and is drought-proof, a perfect crop to thrive in Karst regions,” said Guo.

The local Karst landscape and dry climate have given the pepper a stronger flavor that produces a tingling, numbing effect, making it a marketable product across the country.

The county earned the title, “China’s hometown of Sichuan pepper,” awarded by the China Economic Forest Association in 2017.

Meanwhile, investment and technical support from outside the county, especially from the more developed eastern provinces and regions, poured in since 2018 to bolster the local economy.

Haishu District of Ningbo City in east China’s Zhejiang Province has invested over 10 million yuan (about 1.5 million U.S. dollars) in Zhenfeng to upgrade the local industrial facilities, train workers, and expand areas under cultivation.

The county’s plantation area of 5,400 hectares yields produce worth 120 million yuan.

Over 6,200 registered poverty-stricken households who have benefited from the industry not only receive dividends from local businesses but also earn a salary from cooperatives where they take up farming.

Liang said he now earns about 100 yuan per day and a job near home enables him to strike a balance between life and work.

The pepper-growing industry has also expanded to more counties in Guizhou to become a key driving force lifting people in stony deserts out of poverty.

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