Zhong Minglun's wife shows newly harvested walnuts. (CHENG SI/CHINA DAILY)
Zhong Minglun was shaking walnut trees with a tractor while his wife and several helpers collected the fallen nuts. These small walnuts have brought a better life to Zhong's family and other growers in Wensu county, Aksu in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
Such crops have given the county a good reputation in the markets of Central Asia and Eastern Europe.
The 56-year-old from the county's Kekeya town said that he has contracted land of 3 hectares to grow walnuts in recent years.
"Our net income last year was around 70,000 yuan ($9,600). The yield this year could be 3,000 kilograms per hectare with better quality nuts, which will earn us about 100,000 in total," he said.
Different from today's luxuriantly green and prosperous walnut growing industry in the area, the town was a boundless desert with blustering yellow sandstorms decades ago.
Abduwali Yasen, director of Wensu county's forestry technology promotion center, said that the town is located in the core area of the Kekeya green project — an afforestation project initiated by Aksu in the late 1980s.
"Before introducing the walnut growing industry, the town mainly depended on growing crops but with rather low yields. Then we started walnut planting in 2002 and irrigated the trees with diverted seasonal floodwater and water from the snow mountains. Regional authorities and research centers in the region gave us great help in improving the soil and developing fertilizer," he said.
"The walnuts produced here have better quality, with thin shells but bigger walnut meat and higher oil yield. That's because of the bigger temperature difference and good-quality water and walnut breeds," he added.
"The production value can reach around 52,500 yuan to 60,000 yuan per hectare, bringing higher income to local farmers."
According to him, the walnuts sell well not only domestically but also in countries including Russia, Turkiye and Pakistan.
He said that some big walnut plants and companies in Wensu are channeling greater efforts into product development to add more value.
"The companies now mainly focus on producing walnut oil, with some of them cooperating with research centers and companies in other provinces like Yunnan to develop activated carbon and traditional Chinese medicinal materials using walnut shells and walnut membrane."
Guo Jinbao, factory deputy director of Wensu's Muben Grain and Oil Company, said that the company has invited experts in agricultural technology to give free lectures to local farmers every winter in recent years.
"The training and lecture activity lasts around one week and is usually organized in December when farmers are on breaks," he said.
He said that in addition to producing walnuts and walnut oil, the company is also cooperating with some universities and research centers such as the Xinjiang Agricultural University and Xinjiang Academy of Agricultural Sciences to develop new products like walnut cream to extend the industrial chains.