Raspberry cultivation agent in NE China helps drive income growth for villagers

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By Liu Mengdan, Fang Yuan, People’s Daily

By encouraging more farmers to grow raspberries, Ji Shuhua, a 42-year-old woman in northeast China’s Heilongjiang province, has enjoyed a better life and helped more villagers secure higher incomes.

Ji is a villager in Changxing village, Chang’an township, Binxian county, Harbin city of Heilongjiang province. Her husband Zhang Jun runs a small clinic in the village.

About six or seven years ago, the couple scraped a living by operating the clinic. Their life got harder after the birth of their child.

To ease the burden of the family, Zhang’s father Zhang Guowen decided to grow raspberries after he heard that a company in Binxian county was building an organic vegetable and fruit planting base covering an area of more than 1,000 mu (about 66.67 hectares).

Ji and her husband were concerned about the idea at first. Although their family has farmed for generations, they had never grown raspberries. They were afraid it would be too risky to try planting the new fruit trees.

“The company would train us in all the skills needed for growing the trees. It is also recruiting rural agents to buy raspberries from growers. Agents can get several cents of service fees per kilogram of fruit,” Zhang’s father told them.

According to the company, a raspberry cultivation agent is responsible for encouraging and motivating more villagers to grow raspberries and serves as a bridge for communication between the company and raspberry growers, Zhang Guowen explained.

It was the first time that Ji and Zhang heard the job title of “rural agent”. The couple doubted whether it was a good job.

The next spring, Zhang’s father started to grow raspberries. As a raspberry cultivation agent, he also promoted raspberry planting among his fellow villagers.

In the following year, Zhang Guowen earned good money by growing the fruit and promoting raspberry planting.

As his work as a rural agent started to increase rapidly and he couldn’t handle all the jobs by himself, Ji joined him to help.

Ji is scrupulous and soon became familiar with relevant work. In 2016, she took over all the work of rural agent from her father-in-law.

For Ji, persuading one more villager into growing raspberries means one more source of service fees for herself.

However, instead of recklessly convincing villagers and pursuing her own interests, the rural agent has always kept in mind the benefits of raspberry growers.

She would always make it clear to her fellow villagers who are willing to join her the hard work needed for growing raspberries.

Raspberries require delicate care and painstaking attention, according to Ji. “During the harvest, growers need to pick all the ripe fruit before the sun rises completely, otherwise they may not get a good price,” she usually tells them.

In the past several years, Ji has never let up on herself as a raspberry cultivation agent.

She attended all the training courses provided by the company on cultivation techniques, plant disease and pest control every spring and winter.

Meanwhile, she has sought advice from experienced raspberry growers frequently and turned their experience into precise numerical standards: one mu of land should hold no more than 1,200 raspberry seedlings, one hole should be located one meter away from another and be planted with four seedlings at most, and one line of seedlings should be two furrows away from another.

In an effort to pass the experience to green hands, Ji helps newly-joined farmers arrange seedlings and demonstrates cultivation techniques to them in fields whenever she has time.

Gradually, more farmers have started to grow raspberries and become better-off.

When some farmers didn’t have enough money to pay the helpers they hired to pick up the fruit during the harvest time, Ji voluntarily lends them money and never asks for interest.

Ji’s kindness touched many raspberry growers, who often help her with loading when she purchases raspberries from them.

In 2020, Ji earned nearly 60,000 yuan ($9,274) of service fees.

Ji’s family has built a new house in her village, and bought a home in the central area of Binxian county so that their child could live closer to school.

“We had never imagined our life could get so great,” said Ji, who is also happy that she could help her fellow villagers make more money.

Since she became a raspberry cultivation agent, Ji has persuaded more than 80 households into growing raspberries. Some villagers who have been successful in growing raspberries have also become rural agents.

In recent years, Binxian county has sped up optimizing planting structure. Rural agents like Ji are now seen in fields of each village of the county.

In the company that Ji works for, rural agents can help increase the annual income of each poor household by an average of over 2,000 yuan.

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