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Cotton pickers travel to harvest in Xinjiang

By Qi Xin In Zhengzhou And An Baijie In Beijing (China Daily) Updated: 2013-09-25

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Cotton pickers travel to harvest in Xinjiang

Cotton pickers line up on Sept 1 to board a special train that will carry them from Xuchang, Henan province, to two-month jobs in Kuytun, the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region. NIU SHUPEI / FOR CHINA DAILY

 

Every fall, Yang Qizhi treks thousands of miles from Henan province to the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region to pick cotton.

 

For the past eight years, the 52-year-old has earned about 13,000 yuan ($2,120) for two months of work picking cotton in Xinjiang during harvest. Her monthly income picking cotton is three times what she would make in her hometown.

 

Yang is one of tens of thousands of cotton pickers from Henan province who travel to Xinjiang by train every fall. About 280,000 cotton pickers are needed this year for the 520,000 hectares of cotton to be harvested, according to the Xinjiang Bureau of Human Resources and Social Security.

 

To help this mass migration of Henan workers, the Zhengzhou Railway Bureau added 20 extra train services to Xinjiang since August.

 

"We prepared for the annual two-month cotton harvest a month ago, and will have a return-trip travel peak in November," said Li Qingwei, a publicity official at Zhengzhou Railway Station.

 

Yang said picking cotton is not easy. Most of the workers have to get up at 5 am and work until 9 pm, repeating the movements of bending down, picking the cotton and putting it into bags thousands of times a day. The workers are so busy that they have their meals in the cotton fields to save time, Yang said.

 

Most of the workers are women because they are more skilled at picking cotton than men, she said.

 

Apart from Henan province, poverty-stricken regions in Gansu, Shaanxi, and Sichuan provinces also have an abundance of cotton pickers, said Lyu Zhihua, an official at the Department of Human Resources and Social Security of Henan province.

 

Though the cotton pickers have to travel nearly 40 hours by train, the relatively higher pay is worth the time, Lyu said.

 

The official said there is a shortage of pickers during the cotton harvest in Xinjiang even though some farms are now using machines to pick the cotton.

 

Sun Qingjie, a farmer in Henan province who has 87 hectares of cotton in a field near Urumqi under contract, said he had to buy a cotton-picking machine because good workers are hard to come by.

 

To attract more cotton pickers, the Xinjiang government has taken measures to promote the regional job. For instance, government officials in Changji prefecture visited about 200 cotton pickers at a local farm on Sept 16, three days ahead of Mid-Autumn Festival, to discuss the temporary Xinjiang jobs.