Rural renewal spells economic transformation

Policy, innovative tech-inspired investments and ecological farming create magic.

In Northwest China’s Shaanxi province, famous for its rich coal resources, Miaowan, a township in Tongchuan city, is now better known as “Shiitake Mushroom Town” because the edible fungus business has transformed lives and society.

Such transformations are not limited to people. Even landscapes in the province are witness to enormous change. Where dust and exposed mines were a common sight, green mountains and verdant valleys are ubiquitous today in warmer days.

Wang Mingmei, a Miaowan farmer, epitomizes the ongoing change. Three years back, she was mired in poverty. Today, however, she does not mind light rain and appears enthusiastic and content while arranging shiitake mushrooms in neat stacks of rows at a greenhouse.

More than 500 such greenhouses dot the hillside that, not very long ago, was home to coal mines. Such has been the momentum of China’s rural revitalization program that change is visible and inescapable in every nook and cranny of this region.

Where the national poverty alleviation program ended successfully, rural revitalization began in right earnest, bringing not just smiles and energy to people such as Wang but real prosperity and purpose to life.

Today, Wang’s job of picking mushrooms brings her an annual income of about 40,000 yuan ($6,259).

That rural economic magic has been made possible by a modern agricultural technology demonstration base built in Miaowan three years ago.

When a group of reporters toured the mountainous, river-rich region, they got to witness scenes vastly different from history book images. Supported by the local government, ecological farming, which reduces impact of man on nature, has become a key industry here.

Wang said she is aware ecological farming is a better alternative as it protects soil, water and climate, promotes biodiversity, and does not contaminate the environment with chemical inputs.

She has Sun Xiaoshan, a local coal mine owner, to thank for such knowledge. About three years ago, Sun found that some households in a neighboring town called Liulin started planting shiitake mushrooms. They bought breeding sticks for edible fungus and grew shiitake mushrooms at home. The high-frequency harvests brought higher incomes to farmers who hitherto planted grain in the mountains.

So, Sun started up with Tongchuan Dexiang Industrial Co Ltd in September 2017 by investing more than 70 million yuan, after receiving 40 million yuan from a government-run fund. Over the last three years, the startup, which employs Wang among others, set up bases to grow shiitake mushrooms in Miaowan. The startup’s annual income is now nearly 2.4 million yuan.

“I plan to build a new base to grow edible fungus this year and expand an existing one,” said Sun, who is now targeting 200 million yuan in total revenue this year.

The government fund that financed Tongchuan Dexiang was set up for “rural revitalization”, China’s follow-up goal to an eight-year poverty alleviation campaign that helped eradicate absolute poverty and overall regional poverty in 2020. The rural revitalization strategy was announced by the country’s leadership in 2017.