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Sweet potatoes sustain successful industry

China Daily | Updated: 2024-05-27 09:29
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Sweet potato products are displayed at a sweet potato industrial park in Liancheng, Fujian province.QIN HONG/XINHUA

FUZHOU — Transformed by humming production lines and machines, tons of fresh sweet potatoes find their way into packets of crispy sweet potato chips. This bustling scene unfolds daily at a sweet potato processing facility in East China.

"We own three fully automated production lines, and one single line consumes 20 metric tons of fresh sweet potatoes per day," said Huang Baochun, head of Fujian Fengfeng Food Co, based in Liancheng county of the city of Longyan, Fujian province.

Hailed as the "capital of sweet potatoes", Liancheng's history of planting such tubers spans hundreds of years, and today the county plants sweet potatoes on over 6,667 hectares.

Liancheng is home to 58 sweet potato processing and sales enterprises, and sweet potato products produced in the county account for over 80 percent of China's market share. Last year, Liancheng's output value for its entire sweet potato industrial chain reached 14.5 billion yuan ($2.04 billion).

For the residents of Liancheng, sweet potatoes were once a daily staple. Nestled in a southern section of the Wuyi Mountains, its arable land area is only 16,953 hectares, accounting for a mere 6.57 percent of the county's total land area. The limited arable land led to food shortages in the county. When sweet potatoes were introduced to China in the mid to late Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the residents of Liancheng, which has selenium-rich soil, ample sunshine and abundant rainfall, started planting the crop to tackle their food shortages.

The high-yield sweet potatoes not only fed local people well at that time, they later became a source of wealth for them.

In the 1990s, thousands of small workshops mushroomed in the county, engaged in baking dried sweet potatoes.

To promote standardized, large-scale and branded development of the sweet potato processing industry, the local government established a sweet potato industrial park in 2009, providing services including e-commerce, logistics and sewage disposal.

More than 160 sweet potato products have been developed in the county, stretching across 10 categories, including snack food, pet food, beverages and cosmetics.

"We have kept innovating to cater to the evolving tastes of consumers," said Li Yanhua, head of Liancheng Funong Food Co, a leading enterprise in the industrial park. He added that the company has developed hundreds of dried sweet potato products, including health products that are low in calories, additive-free and sugar-free.

In 2021, a sweet potato industry research institute was established with the support of the local government. The institute focuses on seed cultivation and new varieties, as well as providing professional quality inspection services for local sweet potato enterprises, which has further enhanced the development of the sweet potato industry.

Liancheng's sweet potato industry has also ridden the wave of e-commerce. According to an employee at Lianxun E-commerce Co, a local e-commerce enterprise specializing in selling agricultural products, the company has seen its annual sales of sweet potato products reach 40 million yuan.

Zhang Yuanshan, head of Liancheng's e-commerce office, said the county's sweet potato products have been sold in more than 600 cities across China.


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