Ancient chestnut business flourishing as growers pull together

By Yu Xiaohua (Xinhua) 14:17, July 13, 2023

BEIJING, July 13 (Xinhua) -- Eighty kilometers north of downtown Beijing, at the foot of the Great Wall, the land is awash with sweet chestnut trees, some of them hundreds of years old.

Five weeks from now, the farmers will gather the spiky fruits, which contain the delicious nuts, and sell them to cooperatives. In this way, they are ensured better prices than on the open market.

Finding a good price is important for the chestnut growers, who have suffered from serious price fluctuations in the past.

"Sometimes, we sold the fresh fruits at a price of 16 yuan (around 2.23 U.S. dollars) per kilo, but at other times, we might have to sell them at 6 yuan per kilo," recalled Zhang Fugui, a local chestnut grower.

In 2022, chestnuts accounted for 93 percent of the total output of dried and fresh fruits in Bohai Township, Huairou District, Beijing, according to a statistical yearbook.

The unique altitude, sunlight and soil conditions make the area suitable for growing quality chestnuts. There have been a large scale of cultivation in the area since the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), according to local agricultural technicians.

Zhang, 61, tends his own trees, but he also works at a cooperative, earning a monthly income of roughly 5,000 yuan.


Li Yongjun, the 64-year-old founder of the cooperative, comes from a family that has grown chestnuts for generations. Before starting the cooperative in 2008, he had grown wheat, rice and other crops, worked as a chestnut trader and even ran a printing factory.

On his motivations for starting the cooperative, he said, "I believed there was something I could do for my hometown."

He started by conducting research on the chestnut market and related technology, both at home and abroad. He decided that establishing a processing cooperative would help growers gain better control over the prices of the nuts.

So far, the cooperative has signed contracts with over 800 chestnut-growing households. Each year it purchases 2,000 tonnes to 3,000 tonnes of chestnuts from them, said Li, adding that, before the COVID-19 pandemic, they were selling to customers in countries including Japan, Singapore and Israel.

According to Li, household-based growing can lead to wide variations in the output, ranging from hundreds to thousands of kilograms per household, said Li. One solution is for the cooperative to rent the land and take over the production process, thus boosting both the quality and quantity of chestnuts, he said.

In recent years, the cooperative has begun to lease land from local growers at an annual rate of 1,000 yuan per mu (around 666.7 square meters), according to Zhang.

He is ready to transfer their land rights to the cooperative. "It is time to for me retire as a chestnut grower. And my daughters have no intention to tend the trees, so it is the best choice for my family to accept the proposal," he said.


Zhang's daughters are not the only young people to leave the area in search of new careers and lives. However, in recent years, an increasing number have returned to take part in the traditional chestnut industry. Many of them have brought new ideas with them.

Li Sipeng, son of Li, is one of the youngsters. Despite being educated in music, in 2017, the younger Li joined his father and started his own adventure in the chestnut industry.

The 28-year-old man works with specialists from the Beijing Academy of Agriculture and Forestry Sciences, promoting standardized management and technology related to seed selection and nutrition.

He is more digital savvy than his father. Riding the rising wave of live-streaming, he has brought local chestnut products to some of the most popular webcast studios in China.

His best sales experience was in a webcast session hosted by Li Jiaqi, one of the top live streamers in China. During a single night, Li Sipeng sold 3 million yuan of processed products.

Yet the young man said he sees live-streaming more as an opportunity to pitch local nuts to a wider audience, rather than just a sales platform.

"We told audiences how we tend our trees and how the nuts are processed," said Li.

For the young man, there is great untapped potential in this ancient form of cultivation, with its long history and culture.

The father and son plan to open an afternoon tea shop at the foot of the Great Wall, and a visitor center where tourists can wander among the trees and observe this age-old tradition in action. Enditem

(Li Baijia, Gong Fuzhi, Li Rui and Fan Baobao also contributed to the story.)

(Web editor: Zhang Kaiwei, Liang Jun)


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