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Poverty Alleviation: Notes from Gutian

By ​ Li Da Source: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2022-05-12

Gutian County in Ningde, Fujian Province is known nationwide as the "capital of tremella mushrooms." "Last year, I planted four batches of tremella mushrooms, totaling over 100,000 tubes, and earned a direct income of more than 30,000 yuan," said Ding Lixia, a mushroom farmer in Sudun Village, Gutian County. With the support of poverty alleviation funds, Sudun Village has built 24 standard tremella mushroom cultivation houses for farmers to rent. "Thanks to the tremella cultivation houses, I have an annual fixed income. Growing tremella mushrooms has really helped me shake off poverty," said Ding. The cultivation houses can be seen everywhere in Sudun Village. More than 70% of villagers are engaged in growing tremella, with annual production reaching over 6 million bags. Per capita annual income from tremella mushroom cultivation in the village is more than 20,000 yuan. At present, Gutian County produces nearly 900,000 tons of edible mushrooms each year, and the output value of the entire industry chain for mushrooms is nearly 22 billion yuan. Many thousands of local farmers have relied on mushroom production to lift themselves out of poverty. 

Gutian lies on mountainous terrain with little fresh water or cultivatable land. As a mountainous county dependent on agriculture, its residents battled against poverty for a long time. In 1987, the county's gross domestic product was only about 230 million yuan, total fiscal revenue was only about 20 million yuan, and per capita disposable income of farmers was just 493 yuan. The hardworking people of Gutian searched assiduously for a way out of poverty. Then in July 1988, Xi Jinping, who had just started working in Ningde City for less than a month, visited Gutian to conduct grassroots research. Xi noted that he was visiting Gutian County because he had made his mind up about its potential. He visited several mushroom tents to see how mushrooms were cultivated and visited several dab hands at mushroom growing. Xi stated that a new way out of poverty should be found based on local conditions, and that developing the mushroom industry should be the direction for Gutian in eliminating poverty. Xi Jinping visited Gutian on six further occasions, emphasizing each time that the mountainous area of Gutian County was a disadvantage but also a unique natural advantage. It was necessary to utilize strong points and minimize weaknesses by developing mountainous agriculture and a processing industry based on local conditions, so as to fully harness local advantages, better promote rural development, boost farmers' incomes, and promote poverty alleviation. Xi also earnestly urged local officials to "properly sum up experiences as Gutian's mushroom industry offers major opportunities."


Nine edible mushroom varieties produced in Gutian County, which currently cultivates 38 varieties of mushrooms, with more than 20 of them in large-scale production.
From left to right, first line: shiitake, golden needle mushroom, poplar mushroom;

second line: black wood ear, tremella, glossy ganoderma; 

third line: morel, bamboo fungus, shaggy ink cap. 


Once Gutian decided on the direction of development, the production of mushrooms achieved major growth. A string of successful tests were conducted on bag cultivation of tremella mushrooms, outdoor bag cultivation of shiitake mushrooms, cultivation of bamboo fungus using natural materials, and cultivation of tremella using cotton seed hulls. Gutian led the rest of the country in initiating a boom in the production of tremella mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, bamboo fungus, and other types of edible mushrooms. The mushroom industry gradually grew into a pillar of the rural economy and the main pathway by which farmers shook off poverty and increased their wealth in Gutian County. 

Over the past few decades, Gutian residents have kept in mind Xi Jinping's advice and maximized the wonderful opportunity offered by the edible mushroom industry. Starting out with a single fresh and a single dried product, Gutian now turns out a diverse range of new varieties. It produces 38 different types of mushrooms, of which more than 20, including tremella mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, bamboo fungus, monkey head mushrooms, and golden needle mushrooms, have achieved large-scale production. It has created a development model of continuously expanding the scale of production for major species while also developing the production of rare species. At the same time, producers are also exploring agrivoltaic models that combine agriculture and photovoltaic energy generation, so as to pursue green development. Ye Jianhong, head of Gutian Jianhong Agricultural Development Company, who has more than 20 years of experience in the edible mushroom industry, explained, "Over the past 10 years, our company has continuously transformed and developed itself, achieving industrialization of edible mushroom production, processing, and sales. We now have two production bases with 115 cultivation rooms and 1 product packaging workshop. The value of annual output is more than 20 million yuan, and we have developed an industry chain model involving companies, cooperatives, farmers, and production bases, which promotes joint development with farmers." 

Thanks to the expansion of edible mushroom production, people in Gutian County have gradually become prosperous. The per capita disposable income of farmers in the county has remained the highest in Ningde City for 17 consecutive years. In 2021, Gutian's GDP reached 22.34 billion yuan, total public budget revenue exceeded 1.2 billion yuan, and the per capita disposable income of rural residents exceeded 22,000 yuan. More than 300,000 people are directly engaged in the edible mushroom industry in the county, and 70% of the total agricultural output value and 70% of farmers' cash income are derived from edible mushrooms. Xu Feng, head of Gutian County, said, "Mushrooms are the magic weapon the people of Gutian have deployed to eliminate poverty and build their wealth. This industry is in the blood of every Gutian person and has taken root in every aspect of their lives. 235 out of 289 villages (communities) in Gutian are dedicated to the production of edible mushrooms. By the end of 2018, all poor households in the county were lifted out of poverty, and mushrooms played a major role in this achievement." 

Using edible mushroom production as a foundation, Gutian has seized the momentum to develop new industries and new business models. It has promoted deep processing of edible mushrooms, developed a series of products using edible mushrooms like tremella as raw materials, and boosted distribution, rural e-commerce, leisure agriculture, rural tourism, and other business models. Gao Yiqing, secretary of the CPC branch of Banzhong Village, noted, "In recent years, tourism has become an important part of our village. We have developed several tourist projects, welcoming more than 3,000 visitors a month. Our businesses are now thriving, and our village has become more beautiful." 

(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 5, 2022)