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Boosting rural prosperity with sci-tech

Updated: Mar 12, 2024 By MA CHENGUANG and ZHUANG QIANGE China Daily Print
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Researchers from Anqing Vocational and Technical College assist farmers in Taihu county, Anhui province, in caring for rice seedlings last summer. [PHOTO/CHINA DAILY]

Zhou Guangqi, a denizen of a mountainous region in East China's Anhui province, set up a factory to produce tofu and preserved fish in 2017, selling some 60,000 to 80,000 jars of the pickled products each year.

"I inherited such skills from my father, and our preserved dace fish, chopped peppers and fermented bean curd in my hometown of Mituo, Taihu county, enjoy a good reputation," Zhou said, noting however, that his company, which employs six, has had problems to address.

"My fermented bean curd broke apart too easily, sometimes developed a peculiar odor with yellow and red discolorations, and tasted a bit rough and hard," he said.

"I had difficulty for several years, and had to discard hundreds of thousands of jars of products due to inferior quality," he said, adding that lacking the necessary technology and with no professionals in the village or town qualified to help, it was difficult for him to make further progress.

Aid came on Oct 12, 2021, when Liu Dong, a PhD from Anqing Vocational and Technical College based in Anqing — which administers Taihu county — decided to help him with his problems, largely raising the products' quality and increasing sales by almost 50 percent.

Zhou has renovated his factory to produce nearly 1 million jars of various pickled vegetables annually, with a production value of 20 million yuan ($2.78 million).

Joint efforts

Liu's welcome assistance was part of Anhui's efforts to promote rural vitalization with coordinated efforts, helping the province's 25.43 million rural residents among a total populace of 61.27 million.

With the Leading Group for Rural Work of the Anhui Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of China overseeing overall efforts, the province set up the Anhui Rural Vitalization Bureau on May 28, 2021, aiming to seek a new pattern of creating "a unique product for each village, and a unique industry for each county".

Since 2012, rural denizens in Anhui have witnessed double-digit growth in household incomes on a year-on-year basis, said the CPC Anhui Provincial Committee and the provincial government.

Anqing, which administers three districts, five counties and three county-level cities with a total population of 4.15 million, is a revealing example of the campaign's success.

The city set up the Anqing Rural Vitalization School at AVTC on Dec 1, 2021, aiming to cultivate more talent and bolster scientific and technological training and services for rural areas.

The school not only has professors and PhDs from AVTC, but also attracts outside talent, including 14 academic experts, seven governmental policy researchers, 32 experts from agricultural technology promotion centers, five farming experts as well as 10 agricultural entrepreneurs.

"We want to make new and greater contributions to accelerating the construction of a modern and beautiful Anqing," said Tong Hongkui, Party secretary of AVTC.

The educators would often visit rural areas to provide assistance in a timely fashion.

Another AVTC PhD, Li Ping, and her team decided to assist Zhao Zhilin, a native of Changlin village in Mituo town, who set up Anhui Qinyou Biotechnology Co Ltd in 2022 dedicated to planting Acorus calamus, a plant whose roots and stems are used in traditional Chinese medicine.

"With the development of TCM, demand for Acorus calamus is also on the rise as it helps in curing a number of maladies," said Zhao, adding that his dedication to the plants could also make him rich.

But the first thing is to acquire the best seedlings, as the wild plants have become scarce due to excessive local harvesting, he added.

In March 2023, Li and her team guided Zhao in breeding 20,000 seedlings in a greenhouse at AVTC through a method of rhizome reproduction, with a survival rate topping 95 percent.

"I'm now fully confident in expanding my cultivation scale, and developing an industry chain spanning planting, processing and sales," Zhao said, adding he also intends to help farmers around him.

There has been provincial-wide assistance for farmers in Anhui. For example, in Yuexi county, the local branch of Guo Yuan Agriculture Insurance joined the Yuexi bureau of finance and the Yuexi bureau of agriculture and rural affairs in launching one month of insurance between Dec 28, 2022 and Jan 27, 2023 to cover the 15,000 hogs overseen by 22 large-scale breeders in the county.

When the price of live pigs fell below their costs since late December 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, breeders received compensation of 2.38 million yuan from the insurer.

Wang Xiaobing, head of the Yuexingshan Black Pig Breeding Professional Cooperative, said the compensation reduced their burden to some extent.

Large-scale agriculture

As a major grain producer, Anhui has pledged to maintain its production capacity of around 70 billion kilograms each year, spanning arable land of no less than 5.82 million hectares, encouraging the local farmers to get rich through planting and producing grains, and making the province's grain sector stable and people's livelihoods better secured.

In Taihe county of Fuyang in northwestern Anhui, Xu Congxiang is an experienced wheat farmer.

Owning an 82-hectare agricultural science and technology park, which includes an R&D building and over 10 units of large mechanical equipment, his park produced 820,000 kg of wheat in 2022. He also has proprietary ownership of some 20 key technologies for planting high-yield wheat through scaled agricultural operations.

To increase its grain production, Anhui netted in a total yield of more than 83 billion kg of grain in 2023 by planting over 6.67 million hectares of the commodity.

One product per village

Anhui also aims at a new pattern of "a unique product for each village, and a unique industry for each county", with a driving force of "industries" as the core for development.

In Anqing's Qianshan county, the Anqing Forestry Bureau sent staff to aid farmers in Pingfeng village, helping them identify their potential unique products — in this case, sweet potatoes — and encouraging more than 40 residents from over 30 households to expand cultivation of the tubers.

In 2023, the village harvested 120,000 kg of small sweet potatoes and produced 20,000 kg of sweet potato flour, leading to an income of 300,000 yuan for the village.

Each household in the village could increase their annual income by over 5,000 yuan, the bureau said, adding that the village is now thinking of an enlarged mode of "online livestreaming promotion + offline sales" to bolster the popularity and sales of small sweet potatoes.

Meanwhile, with over 61 million people living in 104 county-level areas administering various townships and villages, Anhui is also trying to form a mode of "one specialty for each county."

Funan county, with 1.74 million residents in southern Fuyang, is encouraging farmers in its 28 towns to develop wicker products interwoven with cattail, willow and mulberry strips, expanding its fame as "the capital of China's wickerwork".

Located along the Huaihe River, the county has abundant resources, and in Yangzhai village under Huanggang town, households running wickerwork businesses can each earn up to 60,000 yuan annually from handicrafts.

Currently, Funan can produce over 10,000 wickerwork varieties, which are of both ornamental and practical value, and are sold both at home and abroad, said its publicity chief Zhang Lei.

Tong said that the ultimate path to rural prosperity is to rely on science and technology, and his college routinely sends a team of teachers with PhDs to help cultivate professional breeders and high-quality farmers in Taihu county.

He added that the further progress of both Zhou's and Zhao's businesses has demonstrated the power of science and technology.

Citing Xinrui Rice Industry Co Ltd as an example, Tong said the firm operates a 180-hectare rice paddy, adopting mechanized farming, drone seeding and pesticide spraying.

In addition to offering technical help for Qinyou Biotechnology, Li Ting from the AVTC School of Modern Business also helps farmers in Changlin with e-commerce skills in livestreaming their mountain produce.

The village, located in the hard-to-reach Dabie Mountains, has many types of mountain produce to publicize, and science and technology can offer a helping hand, she said.

Wang Xiping, secretary of the CPC committee in Mituo town, said AVTC not only sends experts and professors to the town for technical guidance, but also provides local farmers with funds and advanced concepts, which will help guide them onto the path of prosperity.

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