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New Plantation Techniques Lift Mlns out of Poverty

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Rice and lotus may seem like strange bedfellows, but planting the two together is helping to lift millions out of poverty in south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

Beneath the golden rice lie white lotus roots in Binyang County, in a scene acclaimed by Yuan Longping, the "Father of Hybrid Rice".

It gives an average rice yield of 424.4 kg and 3,389 kg of lotus root per mu (0.067 hectare), 14.1 percent and 17.5 percent higher than if they were grown separately.

Another widely-used technique, using fertilizer based on soil tests, enables farmers to save fertilizer and increase rice yields by 20 percent.

"I saved a lot of money on fertilizer. I used to lay the rice paddy with a layer of fertilizer first and now this step has been skipped," said Fan Manjun in Jiangzhou Town of Chongzuo City. Her rice yields rose to 500 kg per mu from 400 kg per mu after using the method promoted by the local agricultural department.

The region's Agriculture Department's statistics show that the method has been used on more than 150 million mu of arable land. A total of 9.75 million households have benefited from the technique between 2005 and 2009.

The method can reduce the cost of each mu of paddy by 34 yuan. Since 2005, 5 billion yuan have been saved altogether, rice yields have jumped by 3.37 billion kg and the need to use 273,000 tonnes of fertilizer was spared, said Bin Shiyou, head of the region's Soil and Fertilizer Station.

High-yielding super rice, a quality rice strain piloted in China since the mid-1990s, has also been promoted in the province. Guangxi plans to plant 10.1 million mu of super rice in 2010, said Zhang Mingpei, head of the regional Agriculture Department.

Evidence shows that all these efforts are paying off. Average farmer incomes jumped to 3,980 yuan (US$597) in 2009, up by 10 percent year on year. Also, the number of people living in poverty has shrunk to 3 million in 2008 from 8 million in 2000 , according to the region's poverty relief office.

Guangxi also plans to expand intercropping to cover an extra 8.3 million mu, in a bid to attain 16 million tonnes of crop yield by 2013 and increase farmer incomes by six percent annually, said Zhang.

However, soil erosion is a headache in Guangxi, which is 70 per cent covered by hilly terrain. About 28,100 square km of land is prone to soil erosion while another 23,800 square km of land suffers from desertification.

The severe drought that lasted for eight months beginning last August also jeopardized local agricultural production, as crops withered and left millions of people without drinking water.

The regional government has decided to tackle soil erosion by increasing forest coverage from the current 52.7 percent to 59.9 percent by 2030, among other measures. If everything goes as planned, 53 million tonnes of soil will be saved annually and 4.6 billion kg of extra yield will be produced.

(Xinhua News Agency October 12, 2010)

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