Pioneer macadamia grower leads villagers out of poverty
Bi Jiafu, 69, may not be able to locate Australia on a map, but he is an expert at cultivating macadamia nuts, a tree nut indigenous to the land down under.
Bi started to grow macadamia nuts in Daxueshan Township, southwest China's Yunnan Province in 1997, the first in the remote township located at the foot of a snow-capped mountain. Since then, he has devoted more than two decades to the cultivation of macadamias and led many of his fellow villagers to shake off poverty by growing the profitable nuts.
"In the 1990s, we used to grow sugarcane in the mountains and sell our crop to a local sugar plant for a stable but meager income," said Bi, who was then head of a local sugarcane farm. "Now that we've switched to macadamias, we are much better off."
Currently, more than 10,000 hectares of macadamia trees have been planted in Daxueshan, with over 90 percent of the township's 5,000 or so rural families involved in the macadamia sector. The township produced around 1,600 tonnes of macadamia nuts so far this year, worth more than 80 million yuan (about 11.5 million U.S. dollars).
"With the money earned from the macadamia business, many of my fellow villagers have bought cars and built new houses," Bi said. "That's why many people in Daxueshan call their cars 'nut cars.'"
However, things were not so smooth at the beginning.
In 1996, Bi was advised by local government officials to try planting macadamias, which had been successfully introduced to southern Yunnan in the early 1990s. After visiting the macadamia farms and learning about their bountiful harvests, Bi decided to give it a try.
Bi recalled when he planted the first batch of 100 macadamia seedlings in 1997, many of the villagers were suspicious about the plants they had never heard about.
"Some of my friends even laughed at me because I had to wait for years before the macadamia trees matured and began to yield nuts," he said.
But Bi never wavered. He spent days studying a book on macadamia cultivation and learned how to fertilize, graft and maintain the macadamia trees.
"I also learned that Daxueshan has the right natural conditions for growing macadamias, including continual sunshine and large daily temperature swings, which increased my confidence," he said.
In 1999, Bi's macadamia orchard produced the first batch of nuts, which weighed about 20 kg in total and were sold to visiting merchants at 40 yuan per kg.
"The high price was a big surprise to my fellow villagers," Bi said. And as the production of Bi's orchard grew year by year, many of the villagers decided to jump on the bandwagon.
Li Zhizhong, a villager who started his macadamia orchard in 2006, said Bi gave him seedlings for free and taught him orchard management techniques in the early stages. Li now owns two hectares of macadamias, which earned him over 70,000 yuan this year.
Li is among a large number of villagers who have benefited from the booming macadamia business. Now, every October, the harvest season for macadamias, vast swathes of the trees stand on Daxueshan's hillsides against the backdrop of the towering snow mountain.
"With the increased planting area and yields of macadamias, we need to focus more on quality control and scientific management," said Bi, who still manages a four-hectare macadamia orchard. "We hope to make Daxueshan's macadamia nut a signature product and earn more money from the business."
Editor: John Li