* Xinjiang is the largest production area for processing tomatoes in China, with over 80 percent of its output exported every year.
* Currently, over 300,000 Xinjiang farmers work to provide high-quality processing tomatoes as raw materials for ketchup for the global market.
Against a glowing summer sunset, Bai Jingui drives to his tomato farm. "In about 90 days, these yellow flowers will turn into nearly 10 tonnes of red tomatoes per mu (about 0.07 hectares)," he said.
The farmer, from the Hui ethnic group in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, planted 520 mu of "processing tomatoes," which are smaller in size and have thicker skin than ordinary tomatoes.
Xinjiang is the largest production area for these tomatoes in China, with over 80 percent of its output exported every year. Currently, over 300,000 Xinjiang farmers like Bai work to provide high-quality processing tomatoes as raw materials for ketchup for the global market.
When touching on the United States' so-called "Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act," which just took effect and absurdly presumes that all goods from Xinjiang are produced through "forced labor," Bai became serious.
The 54-year-old farmer, who started planting tomatoes 26 years ago and has had his fair share of rollercoaster experiences with the small round fruit, shook his head with incomprehension and indignation -- How could an honest and hardworking farmer like him be labeled a human rights abuser?
Bai Jingui talks with agricultural technicians in the fields at a tomato farm in Xingfu Village in the Hui Autonomous Prefecture of Changji, northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, June 15, 2022. (Xinhua/Zhang Xiaolong)
TOMATOES FOR A BETTER LIFE
Bai lives in Xingfu Village in the Hui Autonomous Prefecture of Changji. Both names of "Xingfu" and "Changji" convey the wish for prosperity in the Chinese language.
"Xingfu Village is mainly populated by Hui and Han people. We are all farmers," said Bai, who began farming in the 1980s. "Over 40 years ago, people lived off their land and struggled to sustain themselves. Only the occasional surplus would be sold for some extra money."
At that time, Bai did not realize that his home was located in the world's tomato production belt. Close to the 42nd parallel north, Changji, along with other locations on the belt such as the Mediterranean coast and California, provides appropriate light and geothermal energy for tomato growth.
Like other local farmers, Bai used to plant wheat or corn. "From seeds to green fodder, we bent over the crops countless times. Almost every day I had to work with a sickle and shovel," he said.
In 1996, Bai heard that someone was planting tomatoes in his village. "Not grown for daily consumption, these tomatoes were sold abroad. We were given the know-how and the companies came by our door to buy them." He plucked up his courage and planted 10 mu of tomatoes in his field.
In those days, the farmland in Xingfu Village was watered with broad irrigation through earthen canals. The outdated system resulted in overall yields between 2 and 3 tonnes per mu, with the maximum yield at no more than 5 tonnes.
"Every single mu of corn can earn 100 to 200 yuan (about 30 U.S. dollars) at most, and I heard that the profit from 1 mu of tomatoes could surpass that of more than 5 mu of corn." Bai saw hope to change his family's life once again.
Bai Jingui (2nd R) talks with agricultural technicians in the fields at a tomato farm in Xingfu Village in the Hui Autonomous Prefecture of Changji, northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, June 15, 2022. (Xinhua/Zhang Xiaolong)