HUANGPI, China – Trapped in the same bonds as many other Chinese farmers whose crops rot in their fields, Jiang Yuewu is preparing to dump the harvest of 500 tons of lotus root because anti-coronavirus control is preventing traders from entering their gardens near Wuhan, where the global pandemic begins.
Chinese leaders want to revive the economy, but the bleak situation in Huangpi on the outskirts of Wuhan highlights the damage to farmers who are struggling to stay afloat after the country closed for two months.
The authorities loosened travel controls after declaring victory over the virus, but flowers and some other plants deemed unimportant withered while farmers waited for permission to move them to the market.
Most transportation in and around Wuhan, a city of 11 million people in central China’s Hubei province, was suspended on January 23 to fight the corona virus. Trucks carrying food supplies deemed important are permitted to enter.
Jiang lotus root, flour ingredients, popular ingredients in Chinese cuisine and some other plants not included.
“The sellers want to come and buy lotus roots but can’t come,” said Jiang, 57, dressed in blue overalls and knee-high rubber boots. “If we don’t do our best, in the second half of this year, we will barely survive.”
The final restriction on Wuhan residents who left the city will be lifted Wednesday, but farmers and companies are still working to restore supply chains that bring food to crowded cities and raw materials to factories.
The official China News Agency reported that Hubei would create a “green channel” to get production supplies for farmers and crops to be marketed. Jiang and neighbors in this area about 20 miles northeast of Wuhan city center said they were still waiting for permission.
Guo Changqi, who raises flowers for sale in Wuhan, said officials visited to ask vegetable farmers about their losses. Not him.
Guo said he had thrown away more than 20,000 flower pots, which usually sold for 70 to 85 cents at the wholesale market in Wuhan. The market has reopened, but there are some customers, he said.
“We live on flowers,” Guo said, wearing a wide straw hat as he walked past a row of dead flowerpots. “If we don’t have a way to sell it, life will be increasingly difficult.”
Farmers expect government assistance.
“We cannot do anything about this epidemic,” Jiang said. “If the government can find a way to sell lotus root, it can minimize our losses, but so far they haven’t done anything.”
Lotus roots grow under knee-high water in 20 Jiang field-sized ponds. Traders who supply markets as far away as Shenzhen, bordering southeastern Hong Kong, usually pay 12 to 14 cents per pound.
Some farmers found temporary outlets for sales through volunteers in Wuhan helping the elderly and other vulnerable people obtain food supplies. They buy directly from farmers and arrange delivery to apartment complexes.
Online wholesale orders surged in Wuhan and other cities after families were ordered to stay at home. The government also regulates food delivery. But some residents do not have access to websites and smartphone applications.
“Especially for uninhabited people, they don’t know how to buy food from this channel even though they have money,” volunteer Luo Hao said.
Jiang’s neighbor, Dong Yumei, who is increasing cabbage, said sales were down 80 percent. Most of the business now is with volunteer networks in Wuhan.
“The farmers here are very good and vegetables are cheaper,” Luo said. “They are also fresh from agriculture.”
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