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Farmers fight to cut losses
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Huang Zhengfu stands in front of her collapsed home yesterday in the village of Liaojialin in Yichang, Hubei Province.

Farmers in South China are employing all available means to reduce their losses.

On Sunday, Zhang Guoqing, 54, a Huangma villager from Nanchang county, Jiangxi Province, one of the hardest-hit regions, was busy clearing snow off the roof of his greenhouse with a makeshift trowel - a piece of old cloth wrapped around a stick.

"I've never seen so much snow in my life. My family relies on the vegetables I grow in my greenhouse to get through the holidays," Zhang said.

There was 2 cm of snow on the ground.

Other farmers were shaking the branches of their orange trees and burning straw to get rid of the snow and ice.

Fish farmers, with the help of county workers, were busy breaking ice that had formed on the surface of ponds.

Southern China is experiencing its worst snowstorms for 50 years and crops have been badly damaged.

According to the Central Meteorological Station, more rain and snow is forecast for central and eastern regions in the next 10 days, adding to farmers' misery.

Chen Xiwen, director of the office of the central leading group on rural work, said: "The snowstorms in the south will have a severe impact on winter crops. Vegetables could be in very short supply in some areas."

Fruit and vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and oranges have already been severely hit. Wheat is also in short supply, according to the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA).

A total of 9.4 million hectares of farmland, mainly in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River, have been hit by snowstorms. Crops covering more than 1 million hectares have been completely destroyed, the MOA said on its website on Sunday.

The MOA has dispatched 13 teams of experts to eight of the worst-hit provinces and technicians at all levels were heading for the fields to help farmers.

In Jiangxi, 300 teams comprising more than 40,000 technicians are helping farmers reduce their losses.

"We have had freezing weather before, normally lasting two or three days. But this long cold spell has taxed our resources and our experience," Zhang said.

"Most of the 333 hectares of vegetables in our village have been destroyed."

Min Yuezhong, director of the Nanchang municipal vegetable promotion center, said: "We are using methods seldom used before to combat the disaster. We are channeling underground water to warm up fishponds and burning straw to melt the snow and ice on trees."

"These methods are a challenge for the technicians and farmers."

Despite the poor weather, farmers in Jiangxi Province are still hopeful of a harvest.

Mao Huizhong, head of the Jiangxi provincial agriculture department, said on Sunday that most of the 1 million hectares of winter crops in the province are being protected, so losses will be minimal.

(Xinhua News Agency February 5, 2008)

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