Yang Ying (Zeng Wenhui)
The first day Yang Ying, a first-time deputy to the National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislature, arrived in Beijing ahead of the annual NPC session kicking off on March 5, she carefully put a bunch of roses into a vase in her room.
It was no mere decorative touch. It was a symbol of the enterprise that has made her a successful entrepreneur today as well as a leader engaged in improving the livelihoods of farmers in the flower industry in southern China.
"I have embraced roses as my lifelong cause," Yang said, a reference to her flourishing rose farms in southern China that have developed a successful chain of cooperatives, derivative products and tourism.
Chair of Hainan Rose Valley Industrial Development, Yang had originally started her floriculture business in business capital Shanghai. Then in 2006, government officials from Sanya, the city in southern Hainan Province famous for its beaches and year-round balmy weather, visited the flower market in Shanghai, and told her that Sanya was a better place for growing roses. That chance encounter took Yang to Sanya and she was won over. In Shanghai, the rose season ends in November but the warm winter in Sanya is perfect to grow the flower all year round.
On arriving in Sanya, she found that many local villages were impoverished, and some families even could not afford to send their children to school. When her rose farm took off, the benefits began to reach the local farmers as well. In 2009, she rented over 100 hectares from local farmers in a village named Bohou, which meant they began to have a steady income from the rent. Her company also began to buy flowers from famers who grew them in cooperatives and sent them to Shanghai for sale. This opened access to a bigger market and created another source of income for the farmers.
In 2014, Yang branched out into a tertiary industry of rose products, such as rose oil, rose cakes and rose tea, and subsequently, her company added tourism to its list of ventures. In 2017, there were 1.4 million visitors and the number continues to grow.
The projects are also generating jobs locally. Villagers account for 70 percent of her company's 600-member staff, working as weeders, picking flowers, and packaging products. There are 19 cooperatives under the company, with more than 1,000 famers. Rose sales have also promoted the local logistics and express delivery businesses.
Yang's next plan is to develop an industrial town in Sanya. Her company is going to develop more products and will bring relevant industries. Following this model, there will be additional jobs such as making rose wine or offering homestays. The goal is to raise every family's annual income to 150,000 yuan ($23,628), so that they are lifted to a xiaokang or a fairly well-off society.
Yang says her goal was inspired by President Xi Jinping, who in 2013 visited the Yalongwan International Rose Valley in Sanya managed by Yang. She was deeply impressed by a remark President Xi made during the visit that "only when ordinary locals begin to lead a moderately prosperous life can we call it a real xiaokang society."
The government has set 2020 as the period by which to build a well-off society in an all-round way. This, as Xi said in his report at the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China last year, will pave the way for China's transformation into a "great modern socialist country" by mid-21st Century.
But it has not been a bed of roses all the way. Yang admits she encountered difficulties as the farmers initially did not understand how they could benefit from her project. Her company thus had to do a lot of explaining and negotiations. Later, their rising incomes made villagers understand her rose program and things began to go more smoothly.
As Yang sees it, the delicate rose flower can help the development of several sectors. "In the past, I focused on how to produce as many as good flowers as possible so that the workers would have higher wages and farmers would see rising incomes," she said. "After becoming an NPC deputy, I have a heavier responsibility on my shoulders. How to help more farmers on the entire island of Hainan become rich through my rose industry is my responsibility and next target."
Copyedited by Sudeshna Sarkar
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