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Taiwan woman's small orchard harvests big hope in mainland
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15:34, May 06, 2009

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Luo Meijuan is welcoming the first harvest season in her 2-hectare mulberry orchard where dark purple, juicy fruit bends the branches all over the hill.

Her garden produces almost 1 tonne of mulberry fruits every day in the month-long harvest season.

"When I first arrived, it was a deserted hill covered by wild grass everywhere. No water and electricity," said the 57-year-old woman who runs an agricultural technology firm in Taipei.

"I am so happy that things move ahead smoothly. This is my first project in the mainland."

She opened the orchard two years ago inside an investment park in the suburb of Zhangzhou city of southeastern Fujian Province, which was designed to attract Taiwan agriculture projects.

The idea to set up such investment parks was first put forward at the first Cross-Straits Economic and Trade Forum in 2006 as a measure to promote economic cooperation between the Chinese mainland and Taiwan, and introduce the island's advantaged agricultural business into the mainland. Now there are 11 such parks in the mainland.

"The park provided some preferential policies for small businesses like mine, such as tax cuts and free use of land. It is attractive," she said.

There are two other projects of the same scale as Luo and 68 bigger ones in the investment park.

"Here is a very good place for eco-friendly farms," Luo said. "Local farmers maintained the agricultural tradition very well. People are willing to protect the land and water source for good farm produce instead of building factories to earn more money."

Now her mulberry fruits are sold to supermarkets at Zhangzhou city and two other nearby cities. But she said she was not here to just grow fruits and sell them.

"Taiwan farmers did quite well in developing more efficient and green agriculture. I plan to introduce our experience here," she said.

Luo brought mulberry seedlings from Taiwan, as well as new farming technologies and garden management. At first, she found a bit difficult to communicate with the four local farmers she hired to help plant mulberry trees.

"They have their own way of growing plants. They did not like 'city people' like me to interfere in farming. They thought my method was borrowed from books and would not fit in the reality," she said.

She put lots of effort into introducing new farming methods and sometimes had to force them to adopt her way.

"I told them how important it was to test the water quality, to use the least pesticide and to use organic fertilizer. Some time later, they understood my way and we began to work together happily."

Speaking the same Minnan dialect with these farmers also saved her some trouble.

"This is another reason that I put my first project here. We have close cultural connections," she said. The origin of her family can be traced to Anxi county in neighboring Quanzhou city, a one-and-a-half hour drive from Zhangzhou.

When the busy harvest season ends, Luo and her workers will begin picking tender leaves of mulberry trees, which can be made into tea and are said to have soothing effects.

She also plans to collect the branches and roots and sell them to drug stores as they can be made into traditional herb medicines.

She was quite confident of the future of her orchard, which she called her "little experiment garden."

"There is still no electricity in my orchard but the authorities say power supply will come soon," she said.

With the electricity, Luo will improve her orchard to a tourist farm. Visitors from nearby cities can picnic here, drink fresh mulberry juice, collect fruit in the harvest season and even adopt a tree in the garden.

"I have to solve another problem. Fresh mulberry fruit will rot within two days after being harvested," she said.

She has rented a cold store and is looking for a local food-processing plant that can produce mulberry juice or fruit vinegar.

A small institute to develop processed mulberry foods and an organic fertilizer plant are also in the works.

"I have already applied to the park for another piece of land to build them.

"I am thinking that maybe I can run a small orchard like this in the suburb of every big city in the mainland, growing mulberry or any other local popular fruit and providing people a happy retreat from busy city life."

Wearing a hat and gloves like other farmers in her garden and walking easily on the narrow hill path, Luo said, "I have seen hope here."


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