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German botanist dedicated life to poverty relief in China

Xinhua | Updated: 2017-09-30 16:05

CHENGDU - Holger Perner, a German botanist, decided to take a nap after his three-day round-the-clock fieldwork in Zoige county of Ngawa Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan Province. He did not wake up, dying peacefully in his sleep aged 57.

Perner had been in western Sichuan plateau, where barren soil and atrocious weather kept many locals in poverty, for two decades.

In his lab in Chengdu, where he took his last nap this April, rows of glass cans filled with blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, colored potatoes, orchids and herbs show his painstaking efforts in the past 20 years in China.

Perner made his first visit to China in 1997 when he was traveling with two Japanese experts to Huanglong in northwestern Sichuan. The travel agency mistakenly thought he was from Japan and arranged a China-born Japanese translator Gan Wenqing as their guide. Gan later became his wife.

"She soon learned German, and I have become a Chinese son-in-law," said Perner in an interview with Xinhua earlier this year.

Located in the southern part of the Minshan Mountain range, Huanglong is known for its colorful lake water, snow peaks and glaciers. It is one of 36 biodiversity hotspots in the world, and Perner was obsessed with the rich variety of orchids there.

Four years later, Perner moved to China as a senior advisor to Huanglong scenic area. He studied local ecological system and gave advice on its conservation. But he soon encountered a dilemma.

PEOPLE MATTER MOST

"We are here to protect the environment. But local residents, living on the plateau and with poor infrastructure, barely had enough income. They need the land to survive. If we want to protect the environment, we must find a way out for them," Perner said in a television interview. "In the end, people matter most."

Locals have been living on highland barley and corn, but the two produce little income. Perner thought the acid soil ideal for growing blueberries.

Blueberries then sold for up to 800 yuan (about 120 U.S. dollars) a kilo in China and grows well in acid soil. In 2008, the German Embassy and Huanglong scenic area administration jointly bought a number of blueberry seedlings. Perner cloned them and planted them in nearby Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture.

The blueberry plan proved a resounding success. One family had a good harvest of 100 kilos in three years, and now over 110 families have followed suit, and the local blueberry acreage has reached 270,000 square meters.

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