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Farmers set to turn new leaf as they shun tobacco

(China Daily)

11:07, April 16, 2012

Yao Huilin, 48, weeds her wheat field to prepare for the interplanting of tobacco at the end of this month, in Shui'niugeng village, Henan province, on Thursday. Interplanting wheat with tobacco can help tackle disease and increase output.(China Daily Photo)

Tobacco has been Gu Jiewa's main source of income for two decades. Yet, this year, he decided to kick the habit and grow alternative crops, much to the dismay of his local authority.

The 58-year-old, who farms more than half a hectare in Shui'niugeng village, said it has become increasingly difficult in recent years to make a profit due to rising costs and "the greedy exploitation" of workers by tobacco officials.

"The costs involved in planting tobacco, such as land rent, fertilizer and pesticide, have all risen sharply, but the price of the leaves has not," he said.

In return for toiling in the fields from April to October, Gu said he made on average 16,000 yuan ($2,500) a year, which was "not enough compared with the effort involved".

To make matters worse, it has also become difficult to recruit pickers during harvest seasons.

"Young men in our village are reluctant to do farm work, even though I offered more than 100 yuan a day during busy periods, which last about a month," the farmer Gu said. "Most would rather go to urban areas for easier jobs."

He now plans to grow corn, which has seen a steady rise in price due to the growing demand for pig fodder.

Gu is one of many planters in this area of Henan province - a major source of tobacco for China's cigarette industry - that are turning their back on a crop that has underpinned the local economy for more than 30 years.

"There used to be more than 100 mu (6.6 hectares) of tobacco in our village, and now there is less than 50," said Yao Huiling, 45, who this year planted tobacco on about one-third of a hectare in Shui'niugeng, part of Xiangcheng county.

Farmers used to dry fresh tobacco leaves with coal fires, she said, but rising coal prices have hit planters' profits. "The yard where we used to dry tobacco is now home to a plastics company," she added.

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