Feature: Coffee planting changes truck driver's life

KUNMING, Oct. 7 (Xinhua) -- Pulling a cart of cement, Cai Qingkai, a former truck driver, builds his new two-story house surrounded by coffee trees, which he began to cultivate 14 years ago accidentally.

Cai used to be a truck driver in Zhaotong City, southwest China's Yunnan Province. He first encountered and immediately fell in love with coffee trees when he visited a relative in Pu'er City, Yunnan.

"I was visiting relatives in Pu'er in 2006 when I saw coffee trees bearing red fruit," said Cai.

Due to its temperate climate and geographical environment, Pu'er is a major coffee production area in China.

Official statistics showed Pu'er had a coffee planting area of about 52,300 hectares with an output of 57,000 tonnes in the previous season.

Coffee has become a key industry of Pu'er, which has more than 200,000 coffee farmers. Just like many of them, Cai's life has greatly improved through coffee planting, although he had a difficult time cultivating the crop.

After his visit to Pu'er, Cai sold his truck and his house in Zhaotong and came to Pu'er in a minivan with his family and all their savings, dedicating all his time to coffee planting. His wife supported him.

He signed a 50-year agreement to rent 5.33 hectares of land to plant coffee trees.

At first, he hired workers to look after the coffee trees. "They were not experienced enough, and the trees didn't grow well." He also faced funding problems at the very beginning. The facilities cost almost all his money in the first year.

To save money, he and his wife decided to live in the minivan, with nothing more than basic daily necessities and a monthly budget of a little over 400 yuan (about 58.7 U.S. dollars). This frugal life continued for nearly two years.

"You would make fun of us if you saw us in the field," said Dong Fenglian, Cai's wife. "After a day's work, our clothes were covered with dust. Only our eyes were discernable."

Cai had other worries. According to him, coffee trees were susceptible to various plant diseases such as rust disease, which affected the quality and output of coffee beans a lot.

"My coffee trees were once hit hard by rust disease. The leaves all withered, greatly impacting the output that year," he said.

The local government provided technical training programs for local coffee farmers to improve the quality and output of coffee.

After a series of courses, he drew inspiration from traditional coffee processing methods and came up with his own innovative method.

By using his method, it not only reduces sewage but also gives the coffee bean a better taste, Cai said.

His hard work is worthwhile. Over the past two years, Cai's coffee has been supplied to Starbucks.

Cai has more than doubled the planting area of coffee. He plans to set up a coffee cooperative. Many coffee farmers turn to him for advice on improving the quality of their coffee.

According to the Yunnan International Coffee Exchange, 80 percent of Pu'er coffee is exported to more than 30 countries and regions such as the United States and Germany. Its total coffee export volume hit nearly 40 million U.S. dollars last year.

"Planting coffee is arduous, but it has indeed improved my life and is my moral support," Cai said.

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