Graduates breathe fresh ideas into tea

Graduates breathe fresh ideas into tea

Ever since Fan Hongjing quit his job with a securities company in Qingdao, Shandong province, and returned to his home in Baoji township, Guizhou province, he has been working to develop his business and help fellow villagers pursue prosperity.

Fan, 36, belongs to the Miao ethnic group in Lengfeng village and worked in various jobs in cities such as Chongqing and Qingdao after graduating from Wuhan University in Hubei province in 2009. At the end of 2017 he started a business in his home town.

“During several trips home to visit family, I saw that Guizhou was doing well in agriculture and rural tourism as a result of rural vitalisation. I felt I’d have more opportunities and a greater chance to develop back home.

“Some of the villagers, especially the older ones, were still earning a living as simple labourers, so I also hoped to help more people out of poverty.”

His father, Fan Degui, opposed his decision at first.

“He thought that because I had been to college I should make a living outside the ­mountains,” Fan Hongjing said. “Working in agriculture like he did wasn’t the modern solution.”

<p>Fan Hongjing (right) talks to a villager on his plantation   </p>

Fan Hongjing (right) talks to a villager on his plantation

The elder Fan began to plant tea on 49 acres of hilly land in Lengfeng in 2008. He picked his first harvest the second year and encouraged other villagers to follow his lead.

To help more people make money he founded a tea planting co-operative in January 2010.

Today 155 farmers in nearby villages are part of the co-operative, which looks after 316 acres of tea. Instead of joining his father in growing tea, Fan Hongjing decided to develop auxiliary businesses that could help fund the main family business.

Between 2018 and 2020, he tried his hand at running supermarkets; raising pigs, sheep, fish and shrimp; and planting strawberries and watermelons, which provided him with short-term cash flow that helped offset the risks of tea production.

In the spring of 2020, using money from his businesses, Fan Hongjing started to help his father manage the co-operative. He changed his father’s old business model and expanded cultivated areas and production via measures such as securing more orders, leasing more land from villagers and bringing in more advanced technologies and talent.

He also tried to collaborate with famous tea companies that would give him access to advanced technologies and unified standards of the tea-production industry.

The value of sales last year was 12 million yuan (£1.5million), he said, compared with 8 million (£1 million) in 2020 and 4 million (£500,000) in 2019.

His success attracted the attention of other college graduates.

Now, seven of them work at the co-operative, including Luo Xia, 36, who graduated from Shanghai University of Finance and Economics.

Luo took charge of the co-operative’s finances two years ago.

“After graduation, I took on different jobs in Shanghai and Guiyang [Guizhou’s provincial capital],” Luo said. “I didn’t like the rapid pace of life in big cities, so when I found like-minded young people at the co-operative I accepted Fan’s invitation,” Luo said.

Last year Fan set up an entrepreneurship and employment training centre for young people in his tea processing plant, which has drawn about 100 young villagers back to their roots.

“Young talent like these graduates bring professional knowledge and new ideas,” he said. “Bringing young farmers together can also show the public that agriculture can be vibrant and is not just about manual labour.”

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