Tea plantation revitalizes SW China coal town

(Xinhua) 09:03, January 09, 2024

GUIYANG, Jan. 8 (Xinhua) -- Yao Zuhui, a 47-year-old villager from Jiu'an Township, vividly recalls her mother's advice over two decades ago that marrying to one outside her hometown would bring the benefit of being able to keep her shoes clean as there would be no more coal ashes.

Located in Guiyang, the capital city of southwest China's Guizhou Province, Jiu'an was home to over 133.7 million tonnes of coal reserves, with more than two-thirds of its residents once relying on coal-related livelihoods.

"I remember my shoes would get caked in mud on rainy days and accumulate dust on sunny days. The once-white shoes would turn black by the end of the day," said Yao, recalling her childhood days. She added that on market days, she would wear waterproof rubber shoes and carry a spare pair.

According to Zuo Huazhong, deputy secretary of the party committee of Jiu'an Township, mining activities resulted in heavy metal residues in water, and the use of this contaminated water left brown stains on the teeth of local villagers.

The construction of coal mines required wood for support, leading to extensive logging and the depletion of mountain forests. The situation was so bad that "finding a tree thicker than a wrist had become a challenging task," Zuo said.

Xiang Chaofu, former director of Jiu'an's villagers committee, noted that the "biggest concern" of all was education. While the average individual earned only a meager monthly income, transporting a load of coal could yield over 100 yuan (about 14 U.S. dollars), Xiang explained, adding that after completing junior high school, many young individuals opted to work in a mine or invest in a truck for coal transportation rather than pursue higher education.

The locals were well aware of the problems but felt they had no alternatives. However, a turning point came in 2006 when over 90 percent of the township's land areas were listed under the first and second-level water source protection.

In order to safeguard water sources, coal mines were gradually closed, thanks to the backing of pertinent policies and the proactive measures taken by the local government.

By 2011, every coal mine had been permanently shut down, marking the end of an occupation dating back to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Following this, the locals embraced a shift towards wild tea farming, tapping into another valuable resource in the region.

Jiu'an boasts more than 54,000 varieties of ancient tea plants. According to Wang Xiang, an expert from the Guiyang municipal agriculture and rural affairs bureau, the township's average altitude, reaching 1,110 meters, is conducive to the cultivation of tea.

Leveraging its improving ecological environment and abundant ancient tea plant resources, the township strategically focused on the tea industry, actively working with leading enterprises to boost tea cultivation.

Xiang Chaofu was among the initial group of miners who closed down the mines, and he now cultivates over 300 mu (20 hectares) of tea plants. Inspired by Xiang's farming success, Feng Yongying, who once transported coal for a living, has transformed more than 70 mu of barren mountains into tea-planting areas.

At present, the annual output value of Yao's tea garden has reached about 10 million yuan. "I now earn more and feel more secure than when I operated the mine," Yao said.

The dry tea leaves from Jiu'an Township are sold at an average price of 800 yuan per kg. More than 500 people work in the tea industry in Jiu'an, and over 2,000 temporary jobs are available for local villagers.

The township boasts more than 20,000 mu of tea-planting areas and over 3,000 mu of high-standard ecological tea gardens. The forest coverage rate has seen a remarkable increase from less than 40 percent before 2011 to 61 percent today.

Due to the township's heightened focus on education, the college and university enrollment rate has surpassed 80 percent. Feng's children have all secured admission to universities.

Apart from cultivating and selling tea leaves, Feng has opened a tourism farm. "The lush greenery not only draws in tourists but has also become a signature feature of my hometown," Feng said.

(Web editor: Zhang Kaiwei, Liang Jun)


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