Planting the seeds of success in Xinjiang

Maryem Wullayim rides her electric bike about 8 kilometers every day to check on tomatoes and other plants in a greenhouse.

She nurtures them tenderly, finding the best ways to water and fertilize them so that she can apply the same care to her own crops.

"We have our own 2-hectare plot, growing maize and other staples," the 31-year-old said.

"I hope to learn as much as I can here, to improve myself."

For the past few months, Maryem has been working at the Shuifa Modern Vegetable Industrial Park in Shule county, Kashgar, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.

The park, set up with support from East China's Shandong province, covers more than 300 hectares, with total investment of over 1 billion yuan ($154 million).

Its first phase boasts state-of-the-art agricultural technology, ranging from smart temperature and moisture management greenhouses to coconut-husk test-bed soils and customized insulation walls.

Shuifa, which provides at least 3,000 jobs to members of local ethnic groups like Maryem, expects to reap about 1.5 million metric tons of fresh produce from the park each year.

"We're at the global forefront of the industry with what we are doing here," its general manager, Ni Xiangxiang, said.

About 1,400 local farmers are also renting farm plots from the company to hone their agricultural practices for higher yields, he said.

Maryem, who makes about 2,300 yuan a month at the site, also aims to rent a plot from the company and run her own farm with maximum efficiency.

"Before coming here, I was a housewife and felt I wasn't doing enough to help with the family income," she said.

"All this will make a difference to us."

Her experience is a clear example of the latest improvements in the livelihoods of Xinjiang's ethnic groups through skills training, green technology upgrading and rural vitalization projects across pillar industries including food production and tourism, helping more communities share in the region's growth and development.

The regional economy recorded impressive growth in the first half of the year, with GDP hitting more than 732 billion yuan ($113 billion), up nearly 10 percent year-on-year, the latest official figures showed.

Primary, secondary and tertiary industries reported stable development. The added value of primary industry was up 3.8 percent year-on-year, that of secondary industry rose 10.5 percent, and tertiary industry saw a 10.3 percent increase, the regional government said.

At Nanda New Agriculture, which focuses on dairy and other specialty food and beverage products, an 800-strong workforce comprised mostly of members of Kashgar's ethnic groups is reaping the latest benefits of regional growth.

Maryemgul Mehmet-Ali, 34, has been at the industry leader for a decade, working her way up to become its production manager.

"There's a lot of respect here," said Maryemgul, whose husband is also a manager at the factory.

"With a spirit of working hard, to improve ourselves and our livelihoods, we're contributing back to society."

The company produces at least 300 tons of milk and related foods a day.

Yang Tangjuan, its head of human resources, said women make up a little more than half the workforce, with many family members, some spanning three generations, working together, earning an average of 3,700 yuan a month.

"We have the latest green, circular agricultural technology and practices, such as strict quality-controlled and clean glacier-watered cattle facilities, because we know the community places great importance on health and happiness," Yang said.

Natural attraction

Rural vitalization results are also increasingly obvious at Youka'erkekakula village in Kashgar's Pahar Telik township, where a major green development project involving more than 600 residents has significantly raised incomes and living standards.

Incentives and support to develop ecotourism lodging and ethnic-style farmstays rolled out two years ago have helped attract nearly 200,000 visitors, boosting the income of each household receiving tourists by at least 20,000 yuan a year.

"Our pristine environment offers lush fields, clear streams and colorful ethnic traditions," township Party secretary Li Dumin said.

"A family here offering food and lodging can make 100,000 yuan a year from tourists."

Villager Tursunjan Khader, 33, used to work odd jobs, living in a mud hut that was prone to leaking.

Government subsidies helped him build a new home that he turned into a 12-room house, which he then began refurbishing to offer food and lodging to tourists two years ago.

The new tourism revenue, as well as the money he gets from renting out two excavators to local farmers, allows his five-member household to enjoy an annual income of about 200,000 yuan, Tursunjan said.

"You can see the improvements to our whole village just by walking around," he said.

Learning advantage

At a major cultural center and industrial park in Kashgar, young members of ethnic groups get the opportunity to upgrade their skills in baking nang flatbread, a staple of the Uygur diet, allowing them to preserve and promote their culinary traditions in the food and tourism sectors.

The complex covers 6 hectares, with at least 113 million yuan invested to boost output to half a million products a day valued at 1.5 million yuan, using more than 500 modern electric ovens and nearly 3,000 bakers and workers.

"We opened just over a year ago and already get 1,600 daily visits on average," said Lyu Yuanhong, who is responsible for the site.

"Our employees, mostly aged between 25 and 40, receive comprehensive training for the industry."

Abdu Hayney is learning to perfect his nang-baking skills at the facility after returning to Kashgar from Urumqi, the regional capital, a year ago. He first learned how to make the staple from his grandfather.

"Nang is an important part of our culture here in Xinjiang," he said.

"I hope to start my own nang brand and company in the future."

In neighboring Aksu prefecture, skills training and upgrading measures are also helping to sow seeds of progress.

The Ahmeri peach orchard, on the outskirts of Kuqa, a historic Silk Road oasis, covers about 7.5 hectares. Its annual output of 55 tons rakes in 165,000 yuan during the main harvest season from late June to early September.

Orchard owner Song Qiuping, 48, said about 15 employees tend to the fruit and help train local farmers in the latest technology, like water and soil management.

Fruit-picking tours are also attracting more local tourists, she said.

Syet Yunus, 55, said he spent more than a year learning skills at the orchard so that he can improve yields from his own 7,300-square-meter plot.

The results have been encouraging, Syet said, helping raise his fruit farming income by at least 60 percent to 80,000 yuan a year.

"Together, we learn how to manage our plots better and maximize the planting seasons," he said.