Across China: Migrant melon farmers reap what they sow in Xinjiang

2017-07-17 10:55:27 GMT2017-07-17 18:55:27(Beijing Time) Xinhua English

URUMQI, July 17 (Xinhua) -- In an oasis amid the Gobi desert the temperature reaches 40 degrees Celsius at noon, but farmer Yan Chongxiang refuses to rest.

Working in the scorching sun, he is busy gathering Hami melons from their vines before carefully packing them in boxes. The melons, ripe and freshly picked from remote fields in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, will be delivered across the country that day.

Harvesting Hami melons is tiring work, but well-paid as the juicy fruit sells well in summer.

Hami melons, a Xinjiang speciality, are extensively planted in the region. Hami city, home of the melons, plants 4,200 hectares of the melons, with the annual output reaching 378 million yuan (about 56 million U.S. dollars).

Extensive farming in scarcely populated Xinjiang requires abundant labor, and every year farmers like Yan, from all over China, are drawn to Xinjiang for work.

They call themselves Gua Ke, or migrant melon farmers.

There are more than 1,000 Gua Ke in one single township in Hami, where their camps cluster beside the melon fields in farming season.

Yan, 27, from a village in Yunnan Province, southwest China, about 1,900 km from Xinjiang, has been migrating to plant melons for six years.

"We are too poor at home. My whole family lives on farming on one mu (666 square meters) of field," he said. "My friend told me I can make good money by growing melons in Hami. So here I am. Now my family can make ends meet."

Yan travels to Xinjiang with 30 villagers, mostly couples.

After spending Chinese lunar new year at home, the migrant farmers bid farewell to their families and set out from the village. They take a bus to the nearest city, where they board a train to Chengdu city in Sichuan Province, and then transfer to a train to Xinjiang.

The journey takes more than three days, but no matter how far, the trip is worthwhile as long as they can make money, they say.

In harvest season, they wake up in the camps at 5:00 am. Each carrying a bottle of water and a shoulder pole, they board a tractor and go deep into the fields.

Before dawn the temperature is below 15 degrees Celsius, but Yan does not feel cold and wastes no time, working before it gets too hot.

The temperature climbs rapidly as the sun comes out. Sweat pours from Yan's face as he picks melons and carries a load of about 50 kg on his shoulder.

Hami is not even the hottest city in Xinjiang. In Turpan, the temperature goes so high that farmers have to work at night wearing headlamps.

Yan does not rest until 10:00 pm, and can pick and pack about 700 melons in a day.

A farmer earns 20,000 to 30,000 yuan (about 2,952 to 4,428 U.S. dollars) in a season.

"When there is hardship there is hope, just like the oasis in the desert," Yan said. He hopes to make more money to build a new house and send his children to a better school.

"Xinjiang is a wonderful place. As you sow, so shall you reap," he said.

The arrival of the migrants is welcomed by local farmers.

"Hami melons would not be sold across the country but for these diligent workers," said Basit Yarze, a Hami farmer.

Basit said that when he was child Hami melons were delivered by mule carts and sold only in Hami city. Later the extensive plantation brought more money and more migrant farmers.

"Without these farmers, we can't grow and pick so many melons," Basit said.

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