KUNMING, June 16 (Xinhua) -- In a subtropical Chinese county that once made most of its money from coal mining, a thriving mango business is leading the fight against overcapacity.
Everyone thought Sun Shaolun was crazy when he was decided to sell a coal mine that brought him 10 million yuan (1.52 million U.S. dollars) each year to start growing mangoes in Huaping County, Yunnan Province.
Sun sold the first fruits grown on deserted mine for 380,000 yuan in 2006 as an experiment before making the bold decision three years later.
"Any mine's resources are limited and you cannot rely on them forever," he said.
Running a coal mine is an anxious business and Sun found himself unable to sleep at night as he fretted over the possibility of accidents that might lead to many deaths and his own incarceration. He did not dare to turn off his mobile even after bedtime. "I was terrified whenever my phone rang at night," he said.
In May 2003, 24 people were killed in a coal mine blast in the county and Sun had no wish to be next.
Overcapacity and the mounting cost of increasingly strict safety regulations led to smaller profits; one more reason to give up the mining business. Coal prices have also dropped from a peak of 1,000 yuan per tonne to just 50 yuan today.
Sun now makes 1 million yuan a year. He was one of the first mine owners to start growing mango trees in his village and today there are 770 hectares of them there. More than 70 percent of them are on the sites of former mines.
In 2013, Huaping's coal output was worth 4.77 billion yuan, accounting for over 50 percent of the county's total economic output. Then, in 2014, the Yunnan government told Huaping to shut down over 30 mines and upgrade the remaining 50. It was done within a year, by offering a one-off 4 million yuan payment to the owner of each mine that closed.
Huang Changhui was once a miner, now he works on mango plantation, wrapping the fruit in paper and earning 80 yuan a day. He also has a small mango plantation himself. He makes about the same now as he did as a miner .
"I had to learn from scratch. The trees need pesticides, fertilizer and weeding, but it is much more pleasant than being a miner," he said.
Zou Jie says the transformation was a "redemption" for the deteriorated environment that coal brought. Mining consumes trees and years of exploitation had turned vast tracts of land black, with no trees left and no crops nearby.
"Locals never put on a white shirt as it would soon become dirty in the dusty air," she said.
Zou and her husband suspended the family mine and planted mangoes in 2009. They built a processing line and produce mango puree and dried mango.
To encourage the switch from coal to fruit, the government has arranged loans at a reduced rate of interest. These loans have so far cost the government 10 million yuan to cover the interest discount, according to Wang Guohua, head of the agricultural bureau of the county.
The government has also organized free training and study tours to major mango production regions. Experts are invited to visit the farmers.Farmers are also encouraged to buy a mango insurance, with one fifth of the premium paid by the government.
China plans to cut 500 million tonnes of coal capacity completely and consolidate another 500 million tonnes into the hands of fewer, more efficient operators in the next three to five years.