Harvesting the truth: Why Xinjiang's cotton fields offer more than warmth

Source: Xinhua| 2021-10-31 17:10:19|Editor: huaxia

-- The cotton harvest season in Xinjiang, China's largest cotton-producing region, will last until mid-November this year, with the output expected to reach 5.2 million tonnes.

-- The region has contributed nearly 90 percent of China's cotton production capacity and about 20 percent of the global cotton production.

-- This year, more than 70 percent of the 2.48 million hectares of cotton fields in Xinjiang are harvested mechanically.

by Xinhua writers Xuan Liqi, Li Zhihao, and Hu Huhu

URUMQI, Oct. 31 (Xinhua) -- In four days, Lu Gaolin, a cotton farmer in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, completely finished harvesting his 64-hectare cotton field thanks to a gigantic green machine.

The cotton picker is way more efficient than manual labor. "It used to take seven or eight workers over two months to complete the job of manually picking cotton," he said.

The cotton harvest season in Xinjiang, China's largest cotton-producing region, will last until mid-November this year, with the output expected to reach 5.2 million tonnes. The region has contributed nearly 90 percent of China's cotton production capacity and about 20 percent of the global cotton production.

RUMOR MILL KEEPS RUNNING

Resistant to drought and sandstorms, cotton is an indispensable crop for the farmers' livelihood in Xinjiang. In their eyes, the rumors about "forced labor" in Xinjiang are extremely absurd.

Arkin Rehim, a cotton farmer in the region's Yuli County, has a great sense of fondness for cotton because cotton helps his family live the happy life they dreamed of.

"We will never allow anyone to smear Xinjiang or defile the cotton we have planted," he said. "I have confidence in Xinjiang cotton and will never give up planting it because of rumors."

For Xinjiang farmers, cotton-picking used to be an exhausting job. "We even worked until one or two o'clock each night during the harvest season," Lu said.

Aerial photo taken on Oct. 24, 2021 shows a cotton picker working in Lu Gaolin's cotton field in Sandaogou Village of Shawan City, northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. (Xinhua/Hu Huhu)

However, since manual cotton-picking became a thing of the past as early as 2014 in Shawan City, Lu's hometown, farmers there have already been free from the arduous physical labor. This year, more than 70 percent of the 2.48 million hectares of cotton fields in Xinjiang are harvested mechanically.

Presently, the whole process of planting and harvesting has been mechanized on more than 90 percent of cotton fields in northern Xinjiang. The mechanization rate of cotton picking has reached 40 percent and is still rising in the region's southern part.

Workers of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang always choose jobs of their own volition, and there is no coercion of any kind, said a white paper issued by the State Council Information Office.

Lu Gaolin, a cotton farmer, talks with a cotton picker owner through cellphone in Shawan City, northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Oct. 19, 2021. (Xinhua/Hu Huhu)

GROWING PROSPERITY

Mijit Bakri, a cotton farmer in Bachu County, could barely feed his family of six in the past 20 years with a 2-hectare cotton field. Now he and his family have bid farewell to poverty.

Like his neighboring families, he chose to lease his field to a large-scale agricultural enterprise. They apply mechanized planting and harvesting to the families' fields, covering tens of thousands of hectares.

Combo photo taken in Lu Gaolin's cotton field shows cotton seed sowing underway on April 15, 2021 (top), a drone spraying pesticide (middle) on July 15, 2021 and cotton to be harvested on Oct. 28, 2021 in Shawan City, northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. (Xinhua/Hu Huhu)

Free from the previous heavy manual labor with slender income, Mijit Bakri does not merely depend on the leasing income for a living. The company hires him to manage over 6 hectares of cotton fields with the help of a planter, a cotton picker, a water pump and other equipment.

Lu Dewen, son of Lu Gaolin, plans to buy a large cotton picker worth 6 million yuan (about 940,000 U.S. dollars) with other cotton farmers. "The machine can not only make work convenient but will help us increase our income if we rent it out," he said.

Xinjiang has added nearly 1,000 cotton pickers in 2021, making its total number almost 7,000, according to the data from the region's agricultural and rural mechanization development center.

More villagers are no longer confined to rural areas and choose to seek jobs and better lives in towns and cities thanks to the large-scale mechanization.

Since 2014, thousands of textile and garment enterprises have injected investment and built factories in southern Xinjiang.

By the end of 2020, Xinjiang's production capacity in the cotton textile industry accounted for 17.6 percent of China's total, which provides job opportunities for nearly 600,000 people.

(Video Reporters: Su Chuanyi, Zhao Ge, Hu Huhu, and Ma Kai; Video editors: