True to his dream, a farmer lifts community with flowers
Tong Qijun believes in flower power.
His hard work and vision have planted the seeds of success in the village of Xianyangyan, which has seen its fortunes blossom.
The 55 year-old grows white chrysanthemums in the village, which is part of Futianhe, a small town in Hubei province. He long believed that the flowers would change his life.
In the 1980s, rice growing was still the first choice for farmers in his village, and very few planted other crops. He was the first to transform his rice paddies into flower beds.
"Some told me what I was doing was stupid and that I wouldn't be able to live if I couldn't sell the flowers," he recalled.
But he had confidence that the delicate flowers would eventually bring in a harvest of robust income growth.
He noted that the thin mountain soil and dry weather made rice harvests poor, and it would be even worse for flowers unless they were properly cared for.
Bit by bit, his efforts paid off. He set an example that other farmers and locals are following despite initial reluctance.
Tong said he can earn 60,000 yuan ($9,500) a year in the chrysanthemum business. He now has 1 hectare of white chrysanthemums and hired local residents to work the fields last year.
Tong said wet weather can play havoc with flowers and suggested the government build several workshops in villages to dry the plants and make it easier to store them.
He has established his own workshop to make sure they stay fresh for customers.
He said he hopes the village will expand the scale of the chrysanthemum planting cooperative to attract more farmers to join, and lift more low income households toward a better life.
Futianhe is now one of the three biggest chrysanthemum bases in China, and the local government is vigorously developing the sector to make it a pillar industry.
The town has more than 200 hectares of chrysanthemum fields. About 70 percent of the town's households are involved in the flower sector.
Flower production has reached 3,000 metric tons, with annual output of around 300 million yuan.
In 2009, Macheng, which encompasses Futianhe, registered a trademark - Fu Bai Ju - denoting the flowers' origin, and registered a geographical indicator for its chrysanthemums.
The local government established a pollution-free and viable agricultural operations base. It also set up professional cooperatives to guide local people's planting and sales strategies.
The flowers can be made into food products, medicines and additives for herbal drinks, as well as the popular chrysanthemum tea.
Zheng Yongsheng, chairman of the chrysanthemum association of Macheng, said the town has found a way of alleviating poverty by combining government, farmers and enterprises in an industry chain.
He noted that the town established professional cooperatives in each of its villages to bring in low-income households as members and to provide training on planting. And it also provides subsidies.
According to Zheng, the government also decided to promote chrysanthemum insurance this year to mitigate the consequences of bad weather.
Jin Dongfeng, CEO of Jinlan Agricultural Development Co, said that Guangdong province and Chongqing are major markets for chrysanthemums. The flowers are also exported to markets in Southeast Asia.
Jin noted that his company provides local farmers with training to help them grow their flowers. It also provides them with small loans and employs struggling households to work in the company. It guarantees that the flowers will be purchased.
With these measures, Jin said 362 low-income households increased their incomes.