Blossoming day lily industry a tourism and financial wonder
The fertile land in Datong, which features volcanic soil, is suitable for the growth of day lily. [Photo by Wang Zhongxun for China Daily]
Cash crop intended to eradicate rural poverty in Shanxi becoming a firm favorite with visitors
In mid-May, thousands of tourists flocked to a day lily farm in Tangjiapu village in Yunzhou district of Datong city, Shanxi province, when the flowers were in full bloom.
Their pictures shared on WeChat helped make the site a must-see attraction in the city in the north of the province.
However, local farmers said they didn't intend to make the farm a tourist destination.
Instead, they had aimed to make the farm a production base for organic day lily, a cash crop with steady profitability.
The herb, which is also called yellow flower, golden needle vegetable, or worry-free grass in China, is a popular food ingredient nationally.
The large farm is now a major source of revenue for local villagers, offering hundreds of jobs.
Yang Qi, a farmworker who was weeding the fields, said: "I am paid 150 yuan ($21) a day at the farm and I earned more than 10,000 yuan last year."
He added that the farm is a poverty-alleviation project launched by the local government.
"We are happy that we can find jobs near our homes," Yang said.
Zhang Shunbao, Party secretary of the village, was the first to develop a day lily farm.
He began to run a 20-hectare day lily farm in 2013 and said he had seen a steady increase in income in the following years.
This steady profitability inspired other farmers follow his lead and the herb has grown into a major industry in the village.
"The market demand keeps growing and the prices are steady. Farmers' enthusiasm in growing the herb is further enhanced with various preferential policies from the government," Zhang said.
Farmers in Tangjiapu village in Yunzhou district of Datong collect day lily flowers in the early morning. [Photo by Chen Xudong for China Daily]
Growing day lily is also a major means of poverty reduction in the neighboring New Fangcheng village.
The village was established in 2016 for people relocated from less-inhabitable areas.
The collective 36 hectares of day lily farms, together with plantations of other grains and cash crops, are a major source of revenue for local people.
The village's 77 impoverished households were declared poverty-free at the end of last year, according to local officials.
The family of Bai Lijun is among them. Bai said his parents grow day lily in the village and he works as a welder in his neighborhood.
"We earned about 70,000 yuan last year from these jobs," Bai said.
According to An Yiping, an official responsible for the day lily industry in Yunzhou district, it was only in recent years that day lily expanded into a major industry that boosted local rural economies and helped with poverty alleviation.
"Although day lily in Yunzhou district has been known for its quality historically, we have to solve a number of problems to make it an industry of scale," An said.
The official cited a dry climate, shortage of labor in harvest season and insufficient processing facilities as major difficulties.
Pang Youjun, chief of the agriculture and rural affairs bureau in Yunzhou district, explained how local officials and researchers helped the sector grow into a larger industry by solving these problems.
"With an average annual precipitation of less than 400 millimeters, the shortage of water is the biggest problem for developing large-scale day lily plantations," Pang said.
He said local researchers developed a water-saving drip irrigation system to replace traditional ways of irrigation.
He added they have also developed the use of organic fertilizers, and the monitoring and prevention of plant diseases.
He noted that the government has released a series of preferential policies to boost the sector's growth. These includes a subsidy of 15,000 yuan for each hectare of day lily crop; projects for improving the water supply, electricity and road facilities; and incentives in financing, insurance and technical instruction services.
Farmworkers weed at a day lily farm in Yunzhou district. [Photo by Wang Zhongxun for China Daily]
In addition, the government of Yunzhou allocated a fund worth 400 million yuan to support the development of the day lily industry.
According to the official, the planting area of the herb reached more than 10,000 hectares in Yunzhou. There are 109 villages, 95 plantation cooperatives and 15 processing enterprises engaged in the growing and production of day lily products. The revenue from the industry reached 700 million yuan last year.
Zhang Jun, an official at Yunzhou district poverty reduction office, said the day lily farms, as well as the sunflower and rape farms, can be attractive destinations for tourists during their blossoming seasons.
Boosted by the agricultural sightseeing sector, Yunzhou district welcomed 1.97 million visits last year, netting 1.9 billion yuan in tourism revenue, according to Zhang.
In Datong as a whole, the city government also plans to develop the day lily industry into a major pillar for boosting the rural economy.
According to the city government's development plan for the industry over 2019-23, the total growing area of day lily is expected to reach 20,000 hectares by 2023.
Li Yali contributed to this story.