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Legislator Urges New Wool Production Base in South China

As a way of competing with foreign wool suppliers, China should expand to south and central China its traditional wool producing industries that are now located exclusively in north China, according to Professor Liu Shouren, an expert in merino sheep and a legislator from Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and merino wool expert, in a proposal made to the Fifth Session of the Ninth National People’s Congress.

A new merino production base could be set up in five to ten years in south China if handled properly, Liu said. Although China has a long history of textile production, merino wool is relatively new with China’s first merino having been born in 1968. Today China leads the world in numbers of merino -- some 130 million.

As a country with a well-developed textile industry, China now has some 3.69 million spindles in factories and needs 300,000 tons of wool to feed these spindles. Meanwhile, China can produce only 70,000 tons, which is one-third of that needed. China makes up the difference through imports mainly from Australia and Argentina.

“Another burgeoning period for the wool spindling industry is expected after China’s entry into World Trade Organization (WTO), and the demand for wool will undoubtedly skyrocket,” said Liu Shouren, also an academician of Chinese Academy of Engineering and honorary-president of Xinjiang Academy of Agricultural Reclamation. Liu began his merino research in Xinjiang after his graduation from Nanjing Agricultural University in 1955. He is called China’s “Father of the Merino.”

“Raising merino in the south can make a breakthrough in China’s wool supply,” Liu added.

Though north China -- Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, and the northeastern provinces -- has been a wool producing area for years, long-term development has been limited by natural restrictions, according to Liu. A long cold winter means sheep can be fed only with hay during that time, limiting their growth and exposing them to the danger of freezing to death. The wind in the northern part of China also adds windblown sand to merino wool, which means that a gross 100 kilograms (220 lbs) of wool can only supply some 40 kilograms (88 lb) net after it gets washed many times to get rid of the sand. What’s more, herding indirectly causes sand storms in this area by accelerating natural environmental deterioration.

The southern part of China enjoys much more favorable natural conditions compared with the north, Liu said. Statistics from state grassland surveys show that the total area of grasslands covering over 300 mu (50 acres) each in the south reaches 970 million mu (162 million acres), five times the area of grassland in New Zealand. Besides that, south China features moist weather with mild winters that can supply sheep with fresh grass all the year around.

“Thus the net wool production of 100 kilograms (220 lb) can increase to 70 or 80 kilograms (154 to 176 lb),” Liu said. “It is also significant that developing husbandry in the mountain area of south China can help people there to shake off poverty.”

Liu described the success of test wool production in 1987 in Zhejiang, Yunnan, Sichuan, Hubei, and Hunan provinces under the guideline of the Ministry of Agriculture.

“We provided breeding merino to the peasants and taught them how to feed and manage the sheep. Two years later in 1989, the merino began to bring profits to the local peasants. Peasants got 152.24 yuan (US$18.4) from one merino after selling the wool. I can never forget their excited faces when they received the money,” Liu said.

Now China has cultivated more than 130 million of world leading breeding merino and if developing properly a new merino producing base can be set up in five to ten years in south China.

(By James Liu, china.org.cn staff reporter, March 7, 2002)

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