YINCHUAN, June 15 (Xinhua) -- On the vast Xizan goji berry plantation in Zhongning County, northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, the berries hang in bright red bunches amid green leaves. About 12 years ago, this whole area was just an expanse of parched and dusty semidesert.
Goji berries, also known as wolfberries, are a specialty in Ningxia and famous for their nutritional value. China's history with this particular berry dates back thousands of years. In ancient herbal medicine, its functions include protecting the liver, improving eyesight and conserving strength.
"Goji plants can grow in a range of soil types, even in deserts," said Nie Zhengbao, deputy general manager of Xizan Goji Berry Company Ltd., which owns the plantation. "The semideserts in Zhongning, with weakly alkaline soil, were ideal for planting goji berries. So we chose this place for our plantation."
However, Zhongning County has dry weather and low rainfall, and its only water source is the Yellow River. Providing sufficient irrigation for this 860-hectare plantation would be a major task, an essential problem to be solved if berries were to be grown on a large scale.
To save water, the company decided to reduce the planting density of the berry trees. To improve the efficiency of water use, it introduced a drip irrigation technology from Israel in 2014, replacing the traditional flood irrigation method.
"We spent nearly 1 million U.S. dollars buying drip irrigation equipment from Israel and invited an Israeli agronomist to guide our use of this equipment, according to the specific conditions of our plantation," said Zhang Xu, deputy manager of the company.
The results surprised the Chinese farmers. Since 2014, the drip irrigation technology has helped the plantation make 70-percent savings on water and 60-percent reductions in production costs annually compared to the flood irrigation method.
The annual output of goji berries soared from dozens of tonnes in 2014 to 800 tonnes in 2021, with the value of the goji berries and derivative products jumping from less than 1 million yuan (about 148,100 U.S. dollars) in 2014 to 150 million yuan last year.
The plantation has created thousands of jobs for locals, including those from poverty-hit areas in Ningxia.
Aside from the economic benefits, the farming of goji berries has also brought ecological benefits to the locals. The construction of factories and residential villages is forbidden within 30 km of the plantation, and so it has become a natural ecological barrier against desertification.
"In the past, sandstorms would often hit nearby villages," said Zhang Shuyan, market manager of the company. "Now the semidesert has turned into a green garden. Goji berries have greened the deserts and sweetened people's lives." ■