'Secretary of chile' sows the seeds of progress
Saydahmat Yarmamat (second from left) studies chile cultivation at Taryigil village in Hotan prefecture, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, in 2018. CHINA DAILY
Saydahmat Yarmamat had a hunch that quality was the key to lifting chile growers in the deserts of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region out of poverty, so he put his money where his mouth is.
A poverty alleviation leader from 2018 to April at Taryigil village in Hotan prefecture, Saydahmat knew that more than half of the residents made a living from growing chiles.
To persuade the villagers to use more expensive seeds that yield higher quality chiles in larger numbers, Saydahmat bought seeds worth about 220,000 yuan ($32,736), hoping to prove his point.
Farmers used seeds worth 450 yuan for 1 hectare of land, the 36-year-old said, but better seeds cost 6,750 yuan per hectare. "Farmers wouldn't make the investment because they were stuck in their ways and followed a routine," he said. Saydahmat was aware that if his chiles were hit by disease or a natural disaster he would be greatly out of pocket.
"Although I was worried, I decided to take the risk because I wanted to help them out of poverty and make something lasting from my three years here," he said.
To get the chiles to harvest, Saydahmat used a trumpet every morning to wake up some "unmotivated villagers".
During the irrigation season, he kept watching all night to make sure the fields weren't overwatered. To guard against the chiles dying off in cold weather, he had greenhouses constructed.
"With the greenhouses' protection, chiles could grow well until November so that by then we could sell them at a higher price than in August," he said.
He also translated online video lessons in Mandarin to the Uygur language so the villagers could learn better farming techniques. On top of that, he built a simple seeding machine to help farmers improve the efficiency of their planting.
In 2018, each household earned about 7,200 yuan profit from planting chiles. After that, the villagers gave Saydahmat the nickname of the "Chile secretary".
"Last year, villagers bought better quality seeds without my persuasion, showing that they had started to accept new things," he said.
In 2018, of 376 households in Taryigil, 223 were listed as impoverished, according to local government statistics. This year, there were no villagers remaining on the poverty list.
Saydahmat said that his high school and college years in coastal provinces enabled him to learn farming techniques.
In 2000, Saydahmat was selected as one of the first Xinjiang students to attend high school in a developed city and study with local students, which was part of government efforts to boost educational levels and the development of the country's western region.
He studied at Guangdong Guangya High School in Guangzhou, Guangdong province. "In my middle school in Xinjiang, I ranked among the top students, while in Guangzhou, both I and other Xinjiang students found it hard to exceed in academic performance, especially in English. I slept about four hours a day to catch up," he said.
He gained admission to Xiamen University in Fujian province and majored in mechanical engineering. After graduating in 2008, he returned to Xinjiang to work as a civil servant.
Although most of his university classmates earned higher wages working for enterprises in coastal cities, Saydahmat said he returned to his hometown because "Xinjiang was less developed and needed university graduates".
"I was born in Ili Kazak autonomous prefecture in northern Xinjiang and had never been to the southern parts," he said.
"In my first year in Hotan prefecture, which is about 1,500 kilometers from my hometown, the desert environment was strange to me and I felt a sense of loss at the beginning."
However, Saydahmat said he gradually became familiar with the people and work and found a way to become a valuable member of the community. "I love studying agricultural technology and learning more about grassroots people and issues," he said.
Saydahmat has since moved from Taryigil to the Xinjiang Committee of the Communist Youth League based in Urumqi, but every now and then villagers contact him for advice or simply to say hello. "It is quite a good feeling that some people still keep me in their hearts because I did some meaningful things for them," he said.
（By HU MEIDONG in Xiamen, Fujian and LI HONGYANG in Beijing | CHINA DAILY）