Yunnan villagers go nuts for Australian nuts

Jun. 12, 2018 11:42:00

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Hectares of macadamia trees planted in Daxueshan Township of Yongde County.

By Zhong Qun, Xu Wanhu

Li Zhizhong may not be able to locate Australia on a map, but he is a master at cultivating Australian macadamia nuts.

Li, 63, has devoted more than a decade of his life to the two hectares of macadamias he grows in Mengzhi Village in southwest China's Yunnan Province. The village is among the largest production areas of macadamias in China thanks to locals who brought the Australian seedlings there more than 20 years ago.

"We used to grow corn and potatoes in the mountains, but we did not make much money," Li recalled. "With macadamias, we all became rich."

Currently, about 133,333 hectares of macadamias have been grown in the city of Lincang, where more than 170,000 farming households are engaged in the business, according to official statistics.

In the 1990s, local officials established Mengzhi as a pilot area in the county to grow macadamias, but villagers were reluctant to switch to the exotic crop.

"Most villagers were suspicious about the seedlings because they basically knew nothing about the nuts," Li said.

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Coffee beans grown under macademia trees.

Only one man named Bi Jiafu was willing to give them a try, Li said.

"He read a magazine about the environment needed to grow macadamias and about the nuts' high market value," Li said. "He said the county's climate was perfect for growing the nut trees."

Bi then went to the county government and asked for 100 seedlings.

"He spent days choosing the right place, growing and fertilizing the seedlings, and experts sent by the government often came to help," Li said. "He also frequented bookstores in the county to learn more about his crops."

In 2001, Bi's fields produced the first batch of macadamias. Production climbed year after year, with each hectare of the nuts generating up to 240,000 yuan (37,471 U.S. dollars) annually.

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Bi Jiafu toils in his macadamia tree field.

The bountiful harvests led villagers like Li to try their luck, and many began to buy nut seedlings and learn techniques from Bi.

Meanwhile, the county government also gave a number of nut seedlings to locals in an attempt to develop the macadamia industry.

"Hectares of macadamias were grown in the mountains and valleys," said Li, who also jumped onto the bandwagon. "Soon, companies came to cash in on the industry, and people in most of the county villages started to grow the nuts."

Li said that in the past, growing corn was not only hard work, but brought little profit.

"Sometimes a hectare of corn could generate less than 15,000 yuan a year," Li said. "But with the nuts, we don't have to worry about anything, because all the nuts are usually pre-bought before they're even available for sale."

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Macadamias grown in Daxueshan Township. All photos on this webpage provided by the forestry bureau of Yongde County

The exotic nuts truly transformed the fortunes in the county. Take Li for example. Growing the nuts has allowed him to buy a car worth 130,000 yuan and a house priced at more than 400,000 yuan.

"I paid in full for both my car and my house," Li said.

In the village next to Mengzhi, resident Yang Wenzhu can make about 500,000 yuan a year growing macadamias. Yang calls his newly bought house the "nut house" and his car the "nut car" because they were bought thanks to the booming nut industry.

"The industry has not only beautified the mountains in our hometown, but also improved our livelihood," Li said. (KUNMING 2018-06-11 15:38:04)

Editor: Miao Hong

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