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Sea buckthorn a boon for county in Hebei

Updated: Nov 21, 2023 By ZHANG YU in Shijiazhuang China Daily Print
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A farmer displays sea buckthorn berries he harvested in Guyuan county in Zhangjiakou, Hebei province. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Sea buckthorn — a shrub bearing orange-red edible berries — has improved the lives of local farmers in Guyuan county in Zhangjiakou, Hebei province, boosting their incomes and fueling prosperity.

As every plant growing in the county appears to wither as autumn approaches, the small sea buckthorn fruits become more red, full and clear, stacked on branches like strings of small lanterns.

"Autumn is the best time of the year for harvesting sea buckthorn berries, which have become sweet," said Liu Sudong, head of Xiaochang town, which is the major planting area for sea buckthorns.

According to Liu, the county has planted sea buckthorn trees on a total area of 7,000 hectares, with an annual output of more than 10,000 metric tons for its fruit. Locals can collectively earn as much as 50 million yuan ($6.8 million) a year doing jobs related to picking and processing the fruit, he said.

Among the dense sea buckthorn trees, villagers can be seen wearing thick gloves, holding branches with one hand and scissors in the other. They neatly cut the fruit-bearing branches into about 10-centimeter-long segments and then dropped them into baskets.

Picking sea buckthorn fruit has emerged as a welcome job opportunity for locals in recent years, as it gives people work from September to November, the autumn harvest period.

"You can get over 4 yuan for each kilogram of the berries. So if I work hard enough each day, I can pick more than 250 kg, which is more than 1,000 yuan," said Wang Hongwei, a villager in Xiaochang village of the town.

Claiming to be one of the first people in Guyuan to pick sea buckthorn fruit, Wang said he started making money from it in 2018, when he earned more than 10,000 yuan after signing an agreement with a local processing company, Zhangyuan Shengguo Agriculture Technology Co, to supply them with the fruit.

Encouraged by the pay, Wang went fruit picking again the next year, but this time he hired other villagers to join him. He then collected the fruit they picked and sent it to the company.

So far this year, he has earned more than 20,000 yuan from fruit picking. He said the extra income has allowed him to live a better life.

Autumn is the best time of the year for harvesting sea buckthorn fruits. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Like Wang, there are about 5,000 residents in Guyuan who have earned additional income thanks to the sea buckthorn industry.

In the past, the county government struggled to find economic value in the plant, and it was thus overlooked. Now, sea buckthorn is a lucrative crop with various uses.

Besides bearing fruit, sea buckthorn is a remarkable tree species that can withstand drought and wind erosion and can still grow in saline-alkali soil. It can also serve as an effective windbreak and plays a role in soil conservation.

Qiao Yanping, founder of Zhangyuan Shengguo, saw an opportunity with the plant.

"It was necessary to have our own leading enterprise," said Qiao, who used to work in Beijing.

She was optimistic about the prospects of the sea buckthorn industry and decided to return to Guyuan, her hometown, to take part in the industry's development.

In 2018, Qiao established her company in cooperation with the local government in Xiaochang town. The company organized employees to visit leading sea buckthorn producers to learn from their experiences in the industry and about related technology.

It also introduced production lines to carry out sea buckthorn pulp processing and juice production, eventually achieving an annual production of over 500 tons of pulp and 5,000 tons of juice.

The products are sold domestically as well as internationally in countries including Japan and South Korea, with an annual sales volume of over 30 million yuan, according to the company.

"We plan to further expand our production scale, forming a full industry chain for the development of the sea buckthorn industry," Qiao said.

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