Natural medicine helps to alleviate poverty in remote Pingshun county
Medical herbs are planted on the mountain slopes of Pingshun county. [Photo by Kou Ning for China Daily]
Medical herbs like forsythia and hairy asiabell are becoming key sources for people in the mountainous county of Pingshun to increase their incomes and improve their livelihoods.
Locked in by the Taihang Mountains, Pingshun used to be a less-developed farming area in Shanxi province because of its poor natural conditions.
"Crop farming was not profitable in Pingshun as the county features small pieces of infertile farmland scattered on hilly slopes and in rock-filled valleys," said Guo Jianqing, an official at the Pingshun agriculture and rural affairs bureau. "However, farmers had to rely on crop farming as they lacked other sources of revenue."
The official said farmers used to collect wild medical herbs as a means to increase revenue.
"Pingshun is renowned for its variety and quality of medical herbs in Shanxi," Guo said. "But it didn't become a profitable business due to limited output, small operational scale and lack of technologies and investment."
Things began to change several years ago when a modern agricultural park was launched in Pingshun.
Guo said a complete industrial chain for medical herbs, ranging from wild herb domestication and seedling cultivation to herbal medicine production and sales, has recently taken shape in Pingshun.
Attracting investment from across Shanxi and the rest of the country, Pingshun is now home to more than 270 businesses in the medical herb industry.
The development of the industry is also supported by new technologies and modern operations.
The Pingshun agriculture and rural affairs bureau, for instance, has teamed up with local companies and research institutions to help modernize the industry. They do this by sharing their technologies and operational know-how with farmers.
"When we used to collect herbs in the wilderness, the output was very low," said Zhang Ting, a farmer in Sangjiahe village. "But now we have mastered the technologies for planting herbs, which has led to substantial growth in output and improvement in quality."
"With the technological support from experts, we are more confident in the industry," Zhang said.
The experts that frequently come to Pingshun and instruct farmers include researchers and professors from such famed local institutions as the Shanxi Academy of Medicine and Life Sciences and Shanxi University of Agriculture.
"We are planning to develop a long-term cooperative mechanism among institutions, enterprises and farmers," said Liu Songlin, head of the Pingshun county government.
The official said Pingshun's authorities are also making efforts to boost the medical herb industry by improving the branding of local products.
"We have successfully applied for geographical indications for local forsythia and hairy asiabell and there are plans for more GIs in the future," Liu said.
The official said nearly 40 percent of households in Pingshun are engaged in the medical herb industry. The per capita annual income of those households has surpassed 10,000 yuan ($1,554) in recent years.
Li Shu contributed to this story.