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   Mar 15

Across China: Green shoots of prosperity on TCM-covered trees

GUIYANG, March 12 (Xinhua) — It is early spring in southwest China’s Guizhou Province, but the natural forest in Zhegui Village is already filled with vitality: oak trunks are covered with orchid-like stalks, with branches swaying in the breeze.

“They’re the dendrobium officinale, a valuable Chinese herbal medicine,” said Ruan Jian, deputy manager of Anlong Xicheng Xiushu Agriculture and Forestry Company. “Zhegui Village has sufficient forest coverage with proper altitude and climate conditions, which is very suitable for the imitated wild dendrobium to grow.”

The plant, a member of the orchid family, is known as an important traditional medicine in China since many of its biomedical benefits have been scientifically examined.

Wild plants of dendrobium officinale became an endangered species in the 1980s. With the breakthrough of tissue culture technology in the early 2000s, however, artificial cultivation of precious plants entered the market.

However, with the expansion of scale, dendrobium planted in some regions suffered from problems such as pesticide residues, elevated levels of heavy metal and poor quality.

“We grow high-quality dendrobium without sabotaging the ecological environment, allowing the villagers to make a living from the mountains,” said Ruan, who introduced the medical herbs into forests in Zhegui Village after a thorough investigation.

Oaks in the village feature rough and thick bark, which are rich in water and nutrients, making it easier for the dendrobium officinale to attach while absorbing more nutrients, Ruan said.

Since 2013, the company has planted dendrobium officinale on the tree trunks of more than 267 hectares of oak forest.

Located in Anlong County of the Buyi and Miao Autonomous Prefecture of Guizhou Province, Zhegui Village is rich in forestry resources and has an obvious three-dimensional climate — neither too hot in summer nor too cold in winter.

For a long time, however, due to poor traffic conditions, the landlocked village has not exerted its unique ecological advantage. Growing the dendrobium officinale, broadly known as the “fairy herbs,” in the village is something that the local villagers, including 44-year-old Chen Jian, have never thought of.

“All the oaks are ‘cash cows’ now,” Chen said. “Natural forests cannot be cut, so we did nothing but protect them in the past. Ever since the dendrobium officinale were ‘planted’ on the tree trunks, the green hills that we have kept for decades have turned into gold.”

Chen, who used to work outside of Guizhou for many years, now works in the village as a manager of the dendrobium officinale planting base.

“It’s wonderful that our village has an industry now, so I don’t have to leave my hometown anymore. Life is much more comfortable than in the past,” said Chen, adding that she now earns a monthly salary of more than 3,000 yuan (about 446 U.S. dollars), takes only a few minutes to cycle to work, and can take care of her two children and elderly mother-in-law.

“Without competing with agriculture, planting the dendrobium officinale can liberate good fields. Without harming the grass or trees, we can achieve harmonious co-existence. High mountains and deep forests do no harm to the plant, but can help restore authentic herbs,” Chen said as she cited the benefits of planting the herbs.

The period for flower gathering lasts from April to June every year, and the fresh branch picking period is from November to March. Residents of the neighbor area can all come to work at the base, and a skilled worker can earn up to 500 yuan a day.

“Last year, salaries that we paid totaled more than 4 million yuan,” said Ruan, adding that there are always job vacancies in the base. During the peak picking period, more than 200 workers are needed every day.

Because the cultivation features “zero chemical fertilizer, zero chemical pesticides, zero hormones, and zero transgenics,” dendrobium produced in Zhegui Village is quite favored in the market.

According to Ruan, the finished products after the drying process are sold at a market price of more than 15,000 yuan per kilo. In the markets of Hunan and Fujian provinces, some products are still in short supply and sold at over 20,000 yuan per kilo.

Now the company is gradually entering markets in Beijing, the Yangtze River Delta and Pearl River Delta regions.

Besides considerable economic benefits without woodcutting, the dendrobium industry has also accelerated the poverty alleviation process of local villagers.

Poverty-stricken villagers are encouraged to work at the dendrobium base and buy shares of the company, with an average yearly income of over 30,000 yuan. A total of 1,691 residents in 445 households in Zhegui have stepped out of poverty, statistics showed.

Spreading from Zhegui Village, dendrobium officinale has made roots in many regions in Anlong County, with the total area of imitation wild dendrobium officinale covering more than 340 hectares.

The saying “plant dendrobium and harvest gold” is widely used in the local area, and “Anlong dendrobium officinale,” now listed as China Protected Geographical Indication Products, has formed a series of brands.

According to the plan of Guizhou Province, the planting area of dendrobium in the province is to reach 200,000 mu (13,333 hectares) by the end of this year, so that more people will benefit from it.

Source: XinHua

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