In Datong, success is a yellow flower

(China Daily Global) Updated: 2022-11-18


Zhang Shengwei displays fresh daylilies harvested from his plantation in Gudingqiao village in Datong, Shanxi province. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Turn to planting popular culinary ingredient lifts villages from poverty

Ever since 42-year-old Zhang Shengwei quit his job at a metallurgy company in Taiyuan, Shanxi province, in early 2016, he has been working to develop a business helping fellow residents become more prosperous by planting daylilies.

The daylily, which is also known as the yellow flower or golden-needle vegetable, is a popular food in China.

Zhang was born into a farming family in Gudingqiao village in Datong, Shanxi. For generations, residents of this remote, poverty-stricken village earned a living growing corn and other coarse grains.

Seeking to change his life, Zhang studied hard at school and was admitted to Northwestern Polytechnical University in Xi'an, Shaanxi province, in 1999.

After graduating in 2002, he got a job at a pharmaceutical enterprise in Datong.

In 2007, Zhang traveled to Taiyuan, the provincial capital, to seek better job opportunities.

Thanks to his experience and industriousness, he found a job at a metallurgy company and became one of its top managers a few years later.

"At the time, I earned around 300,000 yuan ($41,310) a year," he said.

"However, as the leader of a project team, I had to work outside Shanxi most of the time, and so I wasn't able to take proper care of my family. I'd had the idea of starting my own business since graduating from college. I also often thought of my fellow villagers and wanted to help them out of poverty."

Zhang decided he needed a change.

The opportunity presented itself when Gudingqiao began to develop its daylily sector in 2015 and encouraged those working outside the village to come back and start businesses.

With no hesitation, Zhang quit his job and returned home.

His family members didn't support his decision at first, and his parents were particularly concerned.

"They thought that I should make a life outside the village, as I had worked hard to get into college," he said. "I explained to them that the government had worked hard to encourage entrepreneurship, and that our village's daylily sector would also develop well. As I insisted, they finally changed their minds."

After a detailed investigation of daylily plantations and sales channels in some successful daylily planting centers in the provinces of Shaanxi and Hunan, Zhang started his business in the spring of 2016.

"In fact, Datong has a long history of planting daylilies, but it didn't become large-scale due to issues with labor and desertification," he said. "Then I had the idea of setting up a cooperative."


Daylilies are dried in a dedicated area in the village. [Photo provided to China Daily]

With 500,000 yuan in funding collected from a variety of sources, Zhang founded a daylily planting cooperative with seven others who had returned to the village.

They rented 33.3 hectares from 358 families in 2016 and expanded the area to 100 hectares by the end of the year.

They built a 10,000-square-meter concrete sunning ground in the village to dry the daylilies after harvest.

"We rented the land for 12,000 yuan a hectare," Zhang said. "In the past, farmers only made around 7,500 yuan per hectare when they planted corn."

They had their first harvest and good sales in 2019, producing 2,250 kilograms of dried daylilies per hectare.

During the planting season in the spring and harvest season in the summer, the cooperative hires 1,000 local farmers, greatly helping increase their incomes.

Zhang also registered a trademark for their daylilies and took their products to agricultural fairs around the country, promoting them to wholesalers and retailers.

In recent years, the cooperative has tried to find new ways to promote the business and Zhang has turned his attention to agricultural tourism.

"Our agricultural sightseeing and daylily picking package attracts 400 visitors a day at peak times," he said. "This creates about 700 new job opportunities."

They have expanded their daylily growth to some other villages in Jijiazhuang township in Datong, planting 766.7 hectares. Meanwhile, the per capita income of local farmers rose from 2,600 yuan in 2017 to 5,500 yuan last year.

"We have the confidence that the new venture will help change villagers' traditional reliance on maize, and achieve the transformation of rural industry," Zhang said.

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