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Hainan offers fertile ground for fruit farmers from Taiwan

Updated: Jun 6, 2023 By Zhang Yi China Daily Print
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Chen Teng-nan gestures toward a truckload of sugar cane, which is used to make juice in his factory in Qionghai city, Hainan province. ZHANG YI/CHINA DAILY

The island's tropical climate and unique location are among the major attractions. Zhang Yi reports.

In Hainan, China's southernmost province, Lin Ho-chou, a farmer from Taiwan, is busy tending to his fruit plantation: his wax apple crop is ripening and the fruit will soon be sold in supermarkets nationwide and by vendors on the streets.

The mature fruit is bell-shaped, and red or crimson in color. Local people call it the "water that grows on trees" as the white flesh under the thin skin is spongy and has a high water content.

It's one of many widely planted fruits in Hainan that were brought by farmers from Taiwan, an island that is home to many tropical fruits.

According to the local authorities, there are more than 300 Taiwan-funded enterprises working in Hainan's agricultural sector.

Lin is one of many farmers from Taiwan who have settled in Hainan in search of opportunities. They bring deep experience and variety to the island province, and make good use of the local land, climate and the Chinese mainland's market to realize their planting dreams and take root.

Lin's family has been planting pomelos in his birthplace — Tainan in southern Taiwan — for generations. Due to the land limitations in Taiwan, such cultivation is small in scale.

Lin Ho-chou picks wax apples at his orchard in Wenchang, Hainan province. ZHANG YI/CHINA DAILY

Importing, expansion

Attracted by Hainan's unique tropical location and a climate suitable for fruit cultivation, Lin began to investigate the island's agricultural sector in 1998. At the time, the sector had many advantages, including relatively low labor costs and flat fields, unlike hilly Taiwan.

In 1999, he settled in a township in Wenchang city. In 2000, he established a company, where he initially grew litchis, a popular local fruit. Later, Lin started importing different varieties of fruit from Taiwan for trial cultivation, gradually expanding his scale.

In 2006, he imported wax apples for a trial. Initially, the fruit was not red and was even split at one end, but after many experiments, Lin achieved a good harvest in 2013, and gradually made a profit from the fruit. He imported bags, pesticides and techniques from Taiwan, but realized that those were not the main factors in success.

"Developing agriculture needs to adapt to the local environment and it relies on the water, soil and weather," he said.

The wax apples he grows in Hainan are also different from those grown in Taiwan, he said. For example, harvest time is different in Hainan, and during the rainy season, the fruit is sweeter as a result of the fast-draining soil.

Lin said there have also been hard times, such as when a super typhoon caused major damage to his plantation. He recalled that in 2014, a typhoon destroyed his wax apple orchard just before the crop was ready to ripen, leaving not a single fruit on the trees.

Despite those setbacks, Lin has stuck it out in Hainan because he regards the island as his home after so many years of effort.

Moreover, strong government support has helped him slowly recover from his losses. "The stronger the wind blows, the more solidly I build my plantation," he said.

He grows litchis, wax apples and dragon fruit on about 0.8 square kilometers of land, employing 20 full-time workers. The largest number of temporary workers he has ever employed in one day is about 700.

Thanks to the quality of his fruit and its good reputation, he has no problems selling his produce. Commercial buyers purchase the crop directly from his field, mostly for sale on the mainland. "The mainland market is bigger than the one in Taiwan and it has more opportunities for development," he said.

A worker oversees a juice production line at Chen's factory. ZHANG YI/CHINA DAILY

High-quality produce

Chen Teng-nan, 68, from New Taipei City in Taiwan, was also attracted by the opportunities on offer in Hainan.

In 2017, he decided to move to Qionghai city to open a fruit-processing plant as he realized that the high-quality produce could be used to make juice products that would be welcome on the mainland.

His company imports seedlings from Taiwan to help local farmers grow high-value fruit, and signs contracts with them to purchase their produce at a specified price for processing.

"The local farmers don't have to worry about sales, and they can earn a good profit," Chen said, adding that the business model allows his company to obtain raw materials at a competitive cost.

Wang Quan, a resident of Hongzhuang village, said, "Our sugar cane not only sells well but also sells for more than the market price." About 60 households in Hongzhuang have signed contracts with Chen's company to grow yellow sugar cane.

The rapid growth of orders at his juice factory has prompted Chen to expand the scale of his activities.

When a new factory is completed, the number of employees will rise from about 200 at present to 500, providing more job opportunities for local people, he said.

Achieving fast growth in recent years and planning an initial public offering in the near future, Chen said he also gives back to the local community. Moreover, the many opportunities he provides help raise the incomes of local fruit growers.

He also undertakes public welfare activities by conducting poverty alleviation efforts and helping to provide education for underprivileged children.

Chung Ming-han, deputy manager at Window of the World Tropical Fruits, is interviewed in the garden of the orchard and tourist site in Qionghai, where exotic fruit is displayed and sold. ZHANG YI/CHINA DAILY

Chung Ming-han used to work in the seedling industry in Pingtung, Taiwan. However, in 2019, he chose to move to Qionghai, which has a similar climate to Taiwan, in the hope of achieving his dream of breeding rare tropical fruit.

He is employed as deputy manager at Window of the World Tropical Fruits, an orchard and tourist site where varieties of exotic fruit introduced to and grown in Hainan are displayed and sold.

The company has introduced 500 kinds of exotic tropical fruit from Central America, South America, Southeast Asia and other places, and more than 350 varieties have been successfully planted in Hainan, he said.

Walking around the orchard, people can view rare produce, including abiu fruit, golden mangosteens and finger limes, as it is one of Asia's largest suppliers of the fruit.

Chung said his company cooperates with local villagers by providing seedlings and technical guidance. It also takes care of sales, thus helping to raise the villagers' incomes.

Tropical fruit cultivation has become the leading industry for villagers' livelihoods, with more than half the local farmers engaged in the sector, he said.

He added that as more people visit the orchard to see the rare tropical fruit, homestays have been built and more young people are now returning to work in their hometown.

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