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"When life hands you a lemon tree, you don't have any choice but to accept the lemons", goes an old saying.
Luckily, for the once struggling farmer Huang Jinyang, life eventually handed him a waxberry tree.
Huang was a farmer for more than 20 years in his hometown of Sanzhou in Changting county, an area badly affected by soil erosion.
Fruit grower Huang Jinyang, 59, prunes waxberry trees in his orchard in Sanzhou, Changting county, in East China's Fujian province, in January. [Mao Chaoqing / for China Daily]
"Life was extremely hard here in the 1980s," he said. "The rice yield was rather small and farmers could only grow potatoes on the dry land and ate whatever they could find."
It was ironical, he thought, that the region had abundant rainfall but suffered drought. But the forest was damaged, and the rainwater ran off the land, carrying huge amounts of soil with it.
"Villagers would even fight for water to irrigate their land," he said.
In 1989, Huang began to plant different kinds of fruit trees in his small orchard, but with little success.
Then came a fortunate turnaround.
The county's agriculture bureau ran a pilot program in 1992 in Sanzhou to plant waxberry trees. Five years later, the trees were producing high yields of the fruit.
Huang, a savvy farmer, was the first farmer in his community to plant waxberry trees, which help control water and soil loss.
At the same time, the local government took bold measures to encourage farmers to plant trees.
From 1998, Changting county allowed individuals to tender for contracts to develop and rehabilitate barren land.
Huang, who took advantages of this policy, soon expanded his 1-hectare waxberry orchard to 33 hectares, and also reclaimed 15 hectares to plant tea. He had tenure on the land for 50 years.
Huang's hard work has paid off and the trees now generate about 200,000 yuan ($31,700) net income to the family every year.
Huang's success has encouraged more villagers to plant waxberry trees, and more farms became orchards.
Already a pioneer, the 59-year-old Huang now has a more ambitious plan. He planted ornamental trees, such as sweet-scented osmanthus and podocarpus, on the hills at the beginning of this year.
These plants, Huang said, need more water for irrigation and are more vulnerable to the environment.
"The plan might have sounded crazy 10 years ago," he said. "But now, it is real."
Hu Meidong contributed to this story.
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