Sowing seeds of success
Rural communities set to reap rewards of shared growth
Editor's note: With its people-centered philosophy, China will build the eastern province of Zhejiang into a demonstration zone for achieving common prosperity. This series looks at the latest steps taken in various areas to meet that goal.
Like many farmers, Xue Aijun used to work his 0.34-hectare plot the traditional, tough way－relying mainly on the weather to eke out a living.
But Xue's life began to take a major turn onto the road to progress four years ago, when advanced agricultural policies, management and techniques were rolled out to help sow the latest seeds of success in his rural community.
"Previously, I had to till the land myself, and the rice harvest depended on the elements," said Xue, 53.
"Now my land is under a management model that provides me with good, stable income on top of dividends from the yields. I'm also employed by the company managing the farm, so I draw a salary from the 6.67 hectares I help cover. The money, at least 100,000 yuan ($15,500) a year, is many times more than what I used to reap."
Xue is one of the growing number of rural residents of Jiashan county in Jiaxing, Zhejiang province, at the forefront of benefiting from wide-ranging measures in the next crucial stages of the country's development.
China's central authorities released a guideline in early June on building Zhejiang, one of China's most affluent provinces, into a demonstration zone for common prosperity.
The province in East China has a target to achieve common prosperity by 2035, with its per capita gross domestic product and the income of urban and rural residents reaching the standard of developed countries.
In August, a meeting of the Central Committee for Financial and Economic Affairs, which was chaired by President Xi Jinping, who is also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, outlined steps to promote common prosperity through high-quality growth, calling for a phased approach to reach the target.
Zhejiang, with a population of about 65 million, boasts top enterprises led by the private sector. The latest plan is set to have it explore the path for common prosperity and show how the nation can tackle unbalanced and inadequate development.
A national action plan has already highlighted Zhejiang's rural development. Jointly released by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs and the provincial government, the plan details multiple steps to build the economic powerhouse into a demonstration zone of rural vitalization in the next five years.
The plan stresses promoting common prosperity in agriculture and rural sectors. Agricultural progress and modernization are expected to be achieved in parts of the province's rural areas by 2025, with replicable practices and models generated.
The improvements on the ground felt by Xue Aijun in the village of Changfeng, in Jiashan's Ganyao township, clearly reflect the inroads made in Zhejiang's common prosperity lead.
Xue works under Zhejiang Jiayou Agricultural Development Co, which manages more than 480 hectares in Ganyao under a land transfer arrangement that guarantees incremental fees paid to its farmers. The company reported more than 21.78 million yuan paid out in transfer fees between 2018 and 2020 alone.
It hires and trains locals like Xue, who gain skills in administrative finance and cultural tourism on top of agricultural expertise, with 3.367 million yuan paid in wages, social insurance and housing just last year.
"Among nearly 50 of our employees, more than 90 percent are farmers. They get meaningful, rewarding work that upgrades their lives, homes and the whole community," company CEO Zhang Weiquan said.
Shen Qinwen, 62, is an agricultural specialist who trains farmers like Xue to maximize their paddies through state-of-the-art weeding and other farming techniques.
"I'm also a Jiashan resident," Shen said. "This arrangement, between modern enterprises and farmers, will help share the rewards of rural development."
Jiashan's model, which pairs its rural communities with leading green, sustainable enterprises for shared growth, involves at least nine townships and over 10 major agricultural groups covering more than 10,000 hectares of arable land.
The county reported average village gross income last year rising more than 30 percent year-on-year to reach 4.01 million yuan, with 84 villages giving dividends to households totaling 76.26 million yuan.
Per capita disposable income of rural residents in the county hit over 40,700 yuan, an increase of more than 7 percent year-on-year.
In the past three years, the county rolled out at least 36 major agricultural projects with a total investment of 6.168 billion yuan, according to the county's agriculture bureau.
More than 30,000 farmers have been trained, with over 1,100 agricultural specialists, management and technical professionals involved.
Jiashan's agricultural road map includes "family farm cultivation" plans and the standardization of cooperatives, which covers four major enterprises and nearly 800 major farming households.
Xu Zhihua, head of the county agriculture bureau, said Jiashan, a major supplier of rice and vegetables for major cities such as Shanghai, is well-placed as a model for rural-urban development.
As younger residents move to urban areas, older villagers are able to access and keep up with job training, and partnerships between enterprises and cooperatives help bring infrastructure improvements and economic development in cultural tourism and other related sectors.
"It's a good balance of technology, training and resources. Incomes and dividends continue to be generated," he said. "We have about 1,000 instructors and specialists a year to help with training. Local products get their own distinct branding. It's well-rounded development."
At Jiashan Shangpin Agricultural Technology Co, a similarly novel approach to entrepreneurship and innovation that involves close partnerships with local farmers helps to fuel inclusive growth in the county.
With solid vegetable and fruit industry chains, the company's focus on sustainable agricultural products is maintained and developed. The group recorded 118 million yuan in sales last year.
The company has set up an agricultural technology arm, named Yiligu, to focus on research and development with groups at home and abroad to cultivate farming expertise and facilities in local communities, ranging from smart greenhouse management and control to hydroponics.
Yiligu work stations attract college students and entrepreneurs to the sector, with nearly 4,000 farming specialists trained in the county and beyond.
The company has brought together at least 19 major agricultural enterprises, cooperatives and family farms, and connected more than 600 hectares of farmland to ensure supply of quality vegetables and stable income to local farmers.
Zhou Jianchun, head of the Yiligu planting base in Jiashan, said modern mechanized packing facilities, skilled labor and efficient logistics chains ensure that the competitive, locally branded vegetables and related products are delivered to market, supplying customers such as major restaurant chains.
"Our partnerships with the farming community, including sustainable practices through cooperatives and digital platforms, are long-term approaches to the development of modern agriculture here," he said.
The benefits of Yiligu's advanced farming methods, such as natural pest control that leverages environmental conditions like sunlight, soil and spacing of cultivation instead of pesticides, are felt clearly by producers and consumers, said agricultural specialist Chen Fuquan, 59, who trains local farmers.
"We are able to provide and maintain optimal planting conditions, which translate into tasty greens that can match the best in domestic and overseas markets," Chen said.
Sima Guixin, 59, tends to cucumbers, tomatoes and melons being cultivated at the base. The Jiashan farmer said production rises by at least 50 percent with the high-tech focus, which includes the computerized monitoring of crop fertilizers and irrigation he helps operate.
"The cucumbers we plant here are popular, sweeter and crunchier varieties that can sell for about 20 yuan a kilo, more than double the price of what I used to grow," he said. "Our honeydew melons here grow full and fast; we can get them to market fresher than those in other parts of the country."
Zhang Jiafei, 50, a farmer from Qingliang, a village in Jiashan's Yaozhuang township, cultivates at least five varieties of mushrooms, which are supplied to Yiligu and sold through its various channels. Orders are placed a day in advance, with about 500 kg of mushrooms delivered to the company daily, Zhang said.
"Under our contract, we adhere to pollution-free requirements with regulations on the amount and types of pesticides we can use," he said.
"The company regularly sends trainers to guide us in crop cultivation, sometimes twice in a two-week period. Mushroom varieties, those that sell well, are also recommended to us, and we can also learn about the latest agricultural technologies."
Zhang has since led the setup of a cooperative that covers five farming households on over 5.3 hectares. Cultivation on his own hectare has expanded to include peaches, tomatoes, eggplants and cucumbers.
"I used to sell yellow peaches, reaping an annual income of 3,000 yuan. Now I nearly make that amount in just a month."
Most important, cooperating with Yiligu means there is a "stable platform with sales guaranteed" through the company's distribution channels such as supermarkets, he said.
"We can reap 150,000 yuan in sales with more than 5 hectares of farmland in a month, which is not bad. We don't have to worry about selling the crops to the company; we can get the money in three weeks.
"For us farmers, we're very happy with the stable returns."
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Chen Fuquan introduces his advanced farming methods to local farmers in Jiashan county, Jiaxing, Zhejiang province. KANG HUIJING/CHINA DAILY