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January 30, 2024  China Daily  

Heated Greenhouses Diversifies Crop Cultivation in Xinjiang

Case Study; Innovative Poverty Alleviation Initiative; Greenhouse Agriculture; Xinjiang

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Despite the frigid-20 C winter temperatures, more than 30 varieties of fruit and vegetables are growing at the agriculture expo park in Altay, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.

Such cultivation is made possible through the use of large-scale heated greenhouses, allowing for the growing of fruit and vegetables that originate from much warmer climes. There are even pomelos ripening on the trees.

Yang Xiaojie, a cultivation technician at the park, worked for decades as a farmer in Jilin province in Northeast China. Four years ago, she moved to the Lasite township in Altay to be part of an agricultural aid project for Xinjiang.

In 2019, 19 paired provinces and cities invested more than 18 billion yuan ($2.5 billion) and implemented nearly 2,000 projects, supporting various initiatives in Xinjiang, including poverty alleviation, improvement of people's livelihoods and economic development, according to the central government.

Yang has taught the local herdsmen how to cultivate vegetables, and her apprentices of various ethnic groups take care of 35 greenhouses.

"In the past, during winter, there was no place in this area where vegetables could be grown. People mainly relied on other regions for their vegetable supply," Yang said.

"Now, not only can everyone eat fresh vegetables grown here, we often have students around Xinjiang coming to the greenhouses for educational activities, where they get to see plants and fruits from the southern regions in person, like waxberry trees and loquat trees," she said.

In Yang's view, Altay's farming conditions, including the soil and the temperature, are not too different from Jilin's. However, the sunlight hours here are especially long, so the vegetables and fruit grown here taste better than those in the northeast, she said.

"The texture and flavor are similar to what I used to eat in the countryside during my childhood, juicy and sweet, different from what you might buy in big cities' supermarkets," she said, describing the tomatoes grown here.

Kuribahati Sailikebai, a villager from Lasite township, is in charge of three greenhouses that grow tomatoes, peppers and eggplants.

"In the past, we used to grow some corn mainly to feed the cows, but we never had any experience with vegetable cultivation," she said.

Last year, Kuribahati joined the agricultural park and learned greenhouse cultivation techniques under the guidance of Yang. She has no problem managing the entire greenhouse, as she has a good grasp of temperature and humidity.

Zhang Xiang, the director of the agriculture expo park, said that it produces 127 metric tons of vegetables and 37 tons of fruit annually.

"Despite the outdoor temperature being below — 20 C today, the greenhouses are heated through sunlight exposure and a patented underground heat storage technology, which can help maintain a suitable temperature and humidity," he said.

Since 2019, the aid team from Jilin has invested over 20 million yuan in leasing land and profit-sharing for the expo park. The park not only supplies vegetables to the residents throughout the year, but also allows more possibilities for the development of the economy in the surrounding area.

"The farmers have a stable income through land transfer, and also utilize their spare time to work in the greenhouses, including those still engaged in animal husbandry," Zhang said.

Ma Jinhua, a 54-year-old from Lasite village, transferred her family's land and works in the greenhouses.

"The income is similar to before, but it's much less hard work, and now I can talk to my colleagues every day and we've become good friends. Life is much more pleasant," Ma said.

Zhang Xiaolin, the Party secretary of Lasite, said that over the past few years, the agriculture park has trained over 500 farmers, and provided nearly 50 jobs.

"Next, by developing tourism products such as picking tours, study trips and shared vegetable sheds, the park can further drive the increased income and prosperity of the surrounding communities."

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