YINCHUAN, June 29 (Xinhua) -- Dawukou District in the city of Shizuishan, northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, is known for the saline and alkaline land located at the foot of Helan Mountain that is very hostile to agriculture.
The district, part of an old coal-mining region that closed five years ago, has taken up the challenge of transforming the local economy, embracing green agriculture despite the poor soil and lack of water.
Shizuishan was one of the 10 coal mining bases authorized by the Chinese government in the 1950s when large-scale coal mines were built at the foot of Helan Mountain. All the mines were shut down in 2017 due to the damage they caused to the local environment and farmland.
In recent years, backed by a government campaign of "building a prosperous countryside," local farmers have been working on ecological recovery, turning the vast tracts of saline and alkaline land into a base for vegetable farming and fish breeding.
In Zaoxiang Village, farmers are using large shacks for the dual purpose of breeding fish and growing vegetables. The two ventures work well together, sharing the same supply of water, which circulates through the building in a highly efficient mechanism.
"Our village is located on low-lying land that suffers from heavy doses of saline and alkaline elements in the soil, and which could not previously be used for growing," said Yang Hongjie, a Party official from the village. "So, the village was formerly half-deserted, with all able-bodied men moving to other places as laborers."
Like other villages in the district, five years ago, Zaoxiang made use of government financial support and technological support from scientific institutions and universities to ecologically revive the land.
The combination of vegetable and fish farming in special shacks was among the innovations from this process. It was designed to reduce the saline and alkaline elements in the soil, while speeding up fish and vegetable production.
"Each season, we can harvest 7,000 kg of fish and 16,000 kg of vegetables, melons and fruits, earning 30,000 yuan (about 4,475 U.S. dollars) and 10,000 yuan, respectively," Yang said.
Taking advantage of the government-financed project promoting modern infrastructure agriculture in Dawukou District, Zaoxiang expects its farmers to increase their incomes by over 8 percent this year. The government has mobilized 220 million yuan for the project covering the whole district.
With agriculture establishing a foothold in the arid area, brand new villages, mini-towns and highways are being built to facilitate the lives and work of local farmers.
Among those overseeing the local development is Niu Junwei, a Party official with the Xinghai township of Dawukou District.
"We have recently built houses with courtyards for 44 households on the site of an old dilapidated village, which was set up four decades ago for immigrants from the poverty-stricken Xihaigu region in central and southern Ningxia," said Niu.
After the farmers moved into the new houses, they would be more focused on agricultural work, rather than moving to other places as migrant workers, he said.
"The farmers in the new village are mostly immigrants of southern Ningxia and heirs to a local ancient opera genre called Qinqiang Opera. We have built a small theater and a plaza where they can perform the traditional art," Niu added. ■