Greenhouses boost farm income in desert

Xinhua
Growing crops had never been a profitable business for farmers of Shahe village, in the waterless and desolated Gobi desert of northwest Gansu Province.
Xinhua

Growing crops had never been a profitable business for farmers of Shahe village, in the waterless and desolated Gobi desert of northwest Gansu Province.

“The land was so barren that most villagers had no choice but to leave their hometown to make a living,” recalled Fan Lide, a Shahe native, who has worked as a plumber, mechanic, and taxi driver in other provinces.

“We expected to transform our hometown from a wasteland to farmland. However, this only seemed to be a daydream without money and proper technology,” Fan said.

In 2009, Suzhou District in Jiuquan City, where Shahe is located, launched a program to build greenhouses in the desert, aiming to enable farmers to grow cash crops such as vegetables, edible fungi, and grapes.

Farming in the Gobi desert has its advantages: The extended amount of sunlight provides adequate energy for crops, a significant temperature difference between day and night helps crops accumulate nutrients, and the Gobi’s hot and dry air means fewer pests and crop diseases.

The first group of 50 greenhouses built by the district took up around 800 hectares; Fan rented 4 hectares to grow tomatoes and chilies.

The greenhouses are loaded with all kinds of technologies, including soilless cultivation, integrated water and fertilization controls, as well as remote phone app controls.   

With an app called “Greenhouse Manager,” Fan can monitor and control the environment in the greenhouses by adjusting all kinds of sensors installed on his phone.

For example, with a tap on the screen, the insulation layer on the roof of the greenhouse can open automatically to let in more fresh air. “I can also see the real-time temperature and humidity in the greenhouses or send a command to irrigate and fertilize the crops,” Fan said.

The Gobi greenhouses use drip and spray irrigation, which can cut water consumption by almost 50 percent compared to a normal farm, according to Yan Shengjun, an agricultural adviser to the farmers.

The greenhouses are also eco-friendly, as they use substrates for soilless cultivation recycled from rotten leaves, straw, and cow and sheep feces.

More than 70 percent of the straw and 82 percent of plastic waste and rotten leaves in Suzhou District are decontaminated and recycled in the greenhouses, figures show.

“Each hectare of the greenhouses can recycle around 600 cubic meters of agricultural waste,” Yan said, “The waste serves as organic fertilizer.”

With the greenhouses, Fan earns around 70,000 yuan (US$10,481) annually.

“Vegetables produced in the greenhouses are harvested twice or three times a year. As organic food gets more popular in the market, our income also increases,” Fan added.

Data from Suzhou District show the greenhouse program has helped bring an average revenue of about US$72,300 per hectare to local farmers.


Special Reports
Top