KUNMING, Oct. 9 (Xinhua) -- Farmers in the village of Tianba may have never been to Australia before, but that did not stop a surprising business from taking root there: Australian macadamia nuts.
This year, Wang Xining has reaped a good harvest. Across 53 hectares, he has grown the exotic nuts in his fields in Tianba, located in the city of Lincang, southwest China's Yunnan Province.
"It's my biggest harvest so far, and I even recruited scores of people to help pick the fruit berries," Wang said.
Drivers transport tonnes of packed nuts to nearby processing factories. Each kg of fresh berries can fetch 14 yuan (2.1 U.S. dollars), Wang said.
The industry is bearing fruit in Lincang, with official figures showing that locals have planted over 173,333 hectares of macadamia nuts in the city so far, the highest plantation area in Yunnan Province.
The industry in Lincang would not be what it is without the efforts of Bi Jiafu, a farmer who pioneered the growing technique of the nuts in the city.
Bi, 70, is a villager of Daxueshan Township, under Lincang's Yongde County. In 1991, local authorities began to pilot growing five varieties of Australian nuts in Hongqishan, a small mountainous area in the county. At that time, Bi was in charge of a farmland, and was guiding locals to grow sugarcane.
"In 1996, I received information that nut trees were bearing fruit in Hongqishan, so I went to see the macadamia nuts -- something I had only seen in books," Bi recalled.
After the trip, a dream took root in his heart: to grow the Australian nuts.
"I learned that the cost of growing the plants was low, but economic benefits were high," he said. "Besides, our township is almost at the same altitude as Hongqishan, and we have more sunlight. So I figured that the trees would grow well here."
A determined Bi fetched 100 seedlings from agricultural authorities and planted them in a sugarcane field next to a ditch.
More than 70 seedlings survived, and around the year 2000 Bi reaped a bumper harvest. He picked more than 20 kg of fruit berries and sold them at a price of 40 yuan per kg.
"I knew that macadamia nuts had market potential, and I wanted to ask people to grow the nuts together with me," he said.
But most villagers who had never grown the nuts hesitated to join in.
"Sugarcane is a stable source of income, so they did not dare to take risks," said then-township official Li Zhizhong.
Bi also faced setbacks.
"My family was not supportive, and the villagers dissuaded me," he said. "But I knew that if you want to develop a new industry, these are the things you have to face up to."
The wheels of fortune turned in 2002, when local authorities began to implement a pilot project reallocating farmland to forestry. The evergreen Australian macadamia nut trees started thriving in large numbers. Next year, Bi started cultivating seedlings himself and gave them out to villagers in the vicinity. Many began to jump on the bandwagon.
In less than 20 years, the 100 seedlings Bi planted in the sugarcane field have expanded to more than 10,000 hectares in Daxueshan Township, making Australian macadamia nut farming one of the major industries in the locality to help locals cast off poverty.
"My family picked about 12 tonnes of nuts this year," said villager Yang Wenzhu. "Next year, I think it will be even better."
Bi also set up a nut-processing factory, which purchased about 200 tonnes of fresh berries from nearby villages this year. Factory workers pack the nuts -- four bags in one box, which can sell for 200 yuan.
As the industry grows in Lincang, some companies have arrived to tap market potential.
Chen Yuxiu is in charge of a nut-processing company in Lincang. Besides processing the products, the company has also launched an online store, allowing people to buy the nuts grown deep in the Yunnan mountains.
"We have more than 50,000 followers on our website, and many customers have praised the products," Chen said. "Through e-commerce, sales channel for the nuts has expanded, and villagers are quite happy that their products have reached different corners of the country."
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