Across China: Special labor market witnesses countryside's herb industry development

  • World
  • Friday, 14 Aug 2020

LANZHOU, Aug. 13 (Xinhua) -- A special labor market lies in Tanchang County, Longnan City of northwest China's Gansu Province. The farmers who plant Chinese herbs in the fields are the employers, while the employees are residents living in the towns.

In Gansu, where the rainy season runs from June to September, farmers need to weed their fields for the healthy growth of herb crops. Large fields and numerous herbs overwhelm farmers, so they hire workers to help them with the daily toil.

Such a unique labor market has been formed in the last six years.

Farmer Sun Yuxuan, 46, is now one of the "bosses" busy with hiring workers to help with his work in the fields.

But six years ago, he was only a poverty-stricken farmer who had to leave his home to seek jobs in cities.

Sun lives in the village of Wangbu in Tanchang, one of the least-developed counties in the province. At an altitude of about 2,000 meters, the village, boasting a cool and moist climate, has nourished the best soil for growing Chinese herbs.

While the fertile soil was just under their feet, Sun, like the other villagers, only lived off earnings from cultivating wheat and corn for years, as deep mountains blocked the herbs to the outside market.

Sun used to earn 3,000 yuan (about 432.3 U.S. dollars) a month as a construction worker, and his wife has a chronic illness that prevents her from working. With his income, he had to raise two children and support elderly parents.

Thanks to a government-sponsored "targeted poverty alleviation" program, Sun's hometown has witnessed the development of its rural infrastructure and road networks.

The local government set up rural cooperatives and financed the construction of hardened cement roads in 2014, which inspired the locals to sell their specialty -- herbs.

Sun returned home from the city. He cultivated about 0.53 hectares of land with Chinese herbs such as Codonopsis pilosula and Angelica sinensis.

To help villagers sell their crops, the government supported the first Chinese herb enterprise in Hadapu Town in the county and offered small loans to farmers.

Now, about 7,533 hectares of standardized planting bases for Chinese herbs have been formed in Tanchang County, according to Li Suiyu, town chief of Lichuan Town.

With larger-scale plantations, troubles followed.

"When busy farming seasons come, fields need to be weeded. But there are no extra hands in the villages," Sun said.

The herb cultivation industry is labor-consuming. Sun's 0.53-hectare-land requires two workers working half a month to finish weeding.

Therefore, the special labor market was formed. Farmers would get up at 6 a.m. every morning to hire town residents. "If you get up late, you have to drive further to find workers," he said.

Sun has just hired two workers in Hadapu Town. He needs to pay them 120 yuan a day each, while a few years ago that was only 80 yuan. In addition, villagers provide the workers shuttle transfers and accommodation.

The employment cost is about 12,000 yuan a year, but selling Chinese herbs brings Sun an annual net income of about 30,000 yuan.

According to town chief Li, 58 villages in five towns have started to plant Chinese herbs, including 760 poor households. In 2019, the per capita income of selling Chinese herbs was nearly 3,000 yuan, accounting for 43 percent of the per capita disposable income.

"Chinese herb plantations have become a pillar industry helping local people shake off poverty," Li said.

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