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Modern Farming Leads Ethnic Zhuangs to Prosperity
Modern machinery, instead of traditional farm tools such as mill wheels and draught-cattle, were prevalent at this year's major agricultural fair held in Long'an County, south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

"Old-fashioned farm tools find no buyers as nowadays every household here uses a tractor," said Wu Guo'an, a farmer of the ethnic Zhuang group from Natong Township, who is in his 60s. "Here water buffalo are reared for milk, not for farm work."

Guangxi is home to over 16 million people of the ethnic Zhuang group, the largest by population of the ethnic groups in China. Areas inhabited by Zhuang people are mostly mountainous and the land suitable for farming is limited. Up to the late 1970s, farmers in these areas lived on slash-and-burn cultivation.

In the past three years, Guangxi has introduced and popularized 3,500 kinds of new farm crop varieties, and sales of farm machinery has picked up across Guangxi along with the expansion of the country's campaign to explore the vast west of China.

Zhang Zhengyou, head of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Regional Bureau of Science and Technology, said the accumulative sales of new farm crop varieties hit 61.5 billion yuan (7.41 billion US dollars) over the past three years, accounting for 24 percent of total agricultural output value for the same period.

"I had to wake up early and go to bed late and could only reap 60 tons of sugarcane on one hectare by using conventional methods to grow the cash crop. But I can harvest about 90 tons of sugarcane per hectare if I tend the cash crop land according to requirements produced by a township-run computer system," said Fan Junfang, a young farmer from Litang Township, Fusui County.

Up to now, Guangxi has developed 14 agricultural computer systems in accordance with local conditions and the systems are now used in experiments for growing sugarcane, longans, mangoes and rice in the region's 30 counties.

Over 53,333 hectares of farm crops have been tended according to requirements set by the computer systems this year, and the output of sugarcane alone went up by 700,000 tons, an increase of 20 percent.

Luo Shujie, an associate professor with Guangxi Institute for Nationalities specializing in the history of minorities, said: " Applications of science and technology have turned a new page in the agricultural history of the ethnic Zhuang people."

A growing number of businessmen are considering turning places of traditional farming featuring slash-and-burn cultivation into tourist sites where visitors can take part in activities such as treading mill wheels and threshing.

(Xinhua News Agency September 26, 2002)

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