By IKENNA EMEWU
Xiuwen is a city about an hour’s drive from the capital city of Guiyang in China’s south west Guizhou Province.
The city, clean, compact and serene is making waves, not just in the rave of development that has become the fad in Guizhou but in what might be called e-farming.
Xiuwen is beautiful in every meaning of it by nature’s own crafting with an amazing landscape, rolling fold mountains, inselbergs, deep valleys, waterfalls, streams at the deep valleys and many more.
The circuitous roads that navigate the bends and contours of the heights wrap a visitor in awe about nature and the pristine worlds of the countryside.
That mild afternoon, a team of African experts on training in modern agriculture techniques and technology at the Guizhou University under the auspices of the Belt and Road Initiative had headed to the hinterlands to see the Xiuwen kiwi farms.
Kiwi is alien to Xiuwen, according to the farm managers. But put better, commercial kiwi farming is alien, not the kiwifruit that its history of nativity is traced to China with the traditional name of China gooseberry. However, kiwi and kiwi farming is fast becoming the identity of these worlds.
A supervisor of the kiwi farms made of 144 cooperative farmers’ bodies that roll into one mega organization to enhance their business explained that it was 30 years ago this region in particular, took the kiwi plant from New Zealand and today, that kiwi belt of Xiuwen has become the largest in China and fourth largest global kiwi planet.
China’s kiwifruit farming is also prominent in the Sichuan and Shanxi provinces.
Kiwi farming has no doubt liberated many Xiuwen natives from poverty and lifted them into affluence as would be seen in their flashy white coated homes and posh cars. The farmers’ chief officer even admitted that much.
Today, the kiwi farms and farmers are not just making living out of the humble plant, they have become affluent as the farms that cover about 16,700 hectares attract them an income in excess of 4 billion RMB per year. Yet, they target to expand to extra 20,000 hectares and a projected annual income of 10b RMB.
Over the years, this world kiwi belt has developed the farms in phases and outside Xiuwen, other kiwi farms exist that cover an area of 300 hectares. No doubt, life here revolves around kiwifruit farming and the hills and valleys in the about 10km drive from the city centre to the Kiwi Park Farm that has morphed into a tourist facility are covered with white T-shaped poles and concrete stands. These are tendril stands for the kiwi plants. The tendrils hang on them for support to bear fruits. Kiwi is climber plant and without strong stems to stand on their own. They therefore curl on stands and bear their fruits there like a bean plant, forming a flat green canopy.
Kiwifruit and kiwi plant
The kiwi plant is cultivated in commercial quantity in the south west of China with high altitude and mild temperature – not too hot summer and not too cold winter.
One of the spots in China that has elevated kiwifruit farming to big business is this Guizhou Province at the Xiuwen mountain ranges.
Irrespective of the nativity to China, the owners of the Guizhou kiwifruit kingdom say they imported their plants and the modern large scale cropping and have relied on at least a cluster of 10 research institutes in Guizhou for advancement and improvement. Chief among the institutions is the Guizhou University School of Agriculture. They also admitted that they get a lot of incentives including subsidies and other grants from the provincial government that has integrated this business into its poverty alleviation project.
At the central Xiuwen Kiwi Fruit Plantation, the farmers have integrated tourism to the business making it a fun place to be. Paved tracks crisscross the underneath of the canopies twined on wooden structures to support the tendrils and oval shaped brownish and fury fruits.
According to Wikipedia report, “Early varieties of the kiwifruit were described in a 1904 nurseryman’s catalogue as having “…edible fruits the size of walnuts, and the flavour of ripe gooseberries,” and Europeans called it Chinese gooseberry. In 1959 it was exported under the name “melonette.” In 1962, New Zealand growers began calling it “kiwifruit” for export marketing, a name becoming commercially adopted in 1974.
“Most of the plants require a male plant to pollinate a female plant for the female plant to produce fruit. For a good yield of fruit, one male vine for every three to eight female vines is required. Other varieties can self pollinate, but they produce a greater and more reliable yield when pollinated by male kiwifruit vines. Kiwifruit is notoriously difficult to pollinate, because the flowers are not very attractive to bees.”
The harvest period for the fruits according to the farm operators is between August and November and plants take three years from planting to fruit bearing.
Big Data farm
In China, the trademark of the Guizhou Province is fast becoming its Big Data project. In June, the media was awash with news of the project’s commencement and chinamoneynetwork.com reported that: “With ample hydroelectric power and a cool climate, it is home to data centers of tech giants such as Tencent and Alibaba. In January, Apple Inc announced it will hand over its iCloud data storage services in mainland China to a state-owned company in Guizhou.
“In May, Tencent announced that it is building a data backup center for disaster recovery in Guizhou. The core facilities have been installed inside mountain caves located in Gui’an New Area. The center covers an area of about 513,000 square meters with 300,000 servers.”
However, while these giants of the ICT world tussle to have a good cut of the Guizhou Big Data cake, the flourishing kiwi farming business never lost sight of queuing up.
At the downtown of Xiuwen, the farmers association has an elaborate data hub that integrates activities of kiwi farming at a spot.
There on the wall size screen partitioned into segments of square blocks, a galaxy of twinkles of data tick away non-stop like the hands of the clock.
At the first floor of the block of offices, experts have keyed the business of kiwi farming into artificial brains that churn out data and feedbacks from the clearing of the fields to planting, grooming till flowering, fruition, ripening, harvest, delivery, storage, trucking and transportation to delivery. The artful network of activities even gets to the details of market survey of what species and flavours various markets especially in China prefer.
The phalanx of data listing 21 Chinese cities understandably has Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou on top. The manager of the data hub explained that the system has assisted them to track the tastes of the consumers and to know what products to take to them. While Shanghai prefers the sweeter flavour, Xi’an in Shanxi Province central China goes for the sour breed.
That monitoring keeps an online real time tracking of the products to the final consumer, and beyond that, even the state of the plants in the fields are known there on the screens – from when they shed leaves in winter to when they regain the green canopy in spring to other even weeds.
With this assistance, the control and monitoring room even keeps tab on the temperature, humidity etc of the storage rooms as the fruits are perishable and even under the best technology can’t last more than eight months in storage.
The kiwifruits don’t just end up getting to the consumer the way they leave the farms. This Xiuwen kiwifruit value chain has advanced to processing the fruits into fruit juice, kiwi water that has exactly the flavour of the succulent berry but just clear as water. Kiwifruit is also distilled into wines and the fruits further dried and packaged into durable products that last far longer than the natural form in the supermarkets.
After a visit, one walks away pondering on the extent imagination has taken farming and the humble kiwifruit and how the internet has become the fulcrum of every business of today.