By Xinhua Writer Luan Xiang
LINCANG, Yunnan, Oct. 22 (Xinhua) - The world's biggest plantation of macadamias is not found in Hawaii or Australia but stretches across the mountains surrounding Lincang, on China's southwestern border with Myanmar.
Native to Australia, the nicknamed "King of Nuts" has become a true "cash tree" for the local farmers in their pursuit of ecological, sustainable development, said experts attending a recent international meeting here.
With a total plantation of 151,333 hectares, Lincang, in Yunnan Province, has set a world record for the largest macadamia planting area, announced Yang Haodong, secretary of the local Party committee, at the 8th International Macadamia Symposium held last week.
The Chinese farmers expect to widen cooperation and trade with their foreign partners in branding and promoting "Lincang Nuts" worldwide, he said.
YUNNAN GOES NUTS
Macadamia, known as one of the most valuable tree nuts for its unique creamy taste and rich nutrients such as monounsaturated fats, are seeds of an evergreen tree genus of the Proteaceae family native to Australia.
In the early 20th century, large-scale commercial plantations of macadamia began in Hawaii, and expanded to the west coast of the United States, central and southern Africa, central America and Southeast Asia.
In 1991, 404 macadamia seedlings were introduced to Lincang, where they thrived given the similarity between the local climate, soil and water conditions and those in their native Australian rainforest.
As of 2017, the macadamia planting area in China had grown to 2.8 million mu (186,700 hectares), accounting for 62 percent of the world's total of 4.6 million mu (306,700 hectares), and 93 percent is in Yunnan, said Ren Zhizhong, Director of the Provincial Forestry Department.
In 2017, Yunnan's 336,700 mu (22,447 hectares) of yielding macadamia trees produced nearly 1 billion yuan in output value, generating over 10,000 yuan per mu for the local farmers.
"Macadamia has become a 'cash tree' and a 'green bank' for farmers in tropical and subtropical mountainous areas of Yunnan," he said.
Lincang plans to plant 170,000 hectares of macadamia trees by 2020, with an expected output value of over 3 billion yuan.
By the time these long-living trees reach a prolific age, the total output value is expected to surpass 20 billion yuan, with 50,000 jobs and a per capita disposable income of over 10,000 yuan generated in the city's macadamia industry, predicted Zhang Zhizheng, mayor of Lincang.
Lincang opts for an ecological, sustainable and high-tech-driven development model, he said.
On one side, Chinese researchers have been optimizing and creating macadamia varieties better adapted to the local conditions applying state-of-the-art technologies.
On the other, using cloud computing, big data and Internet platforms, the agro-industry is self-evolving to design better products that cater to the growingly diversified consumer demand.
In Lincang, the nuts have a cloud-based big data platform with real-time information collected from each farmer monitored by China's own Beidou satellite system.
It is a platform ready to be launched online and shared by all players of the nut business worldwide, said Yang Guoquan, engineer of the developer team.
"The macadamia industry has a promising future in Lincang," said Dr. Femi Akinsanmi, Senior Research Fellow at The University of Queensland, Australia, after a visit to China's first and only State Key Laboratory of Nut Inspection based in Lincang.
NUT BIZ GOES HIGH-TECH, GLOBAL
China is determined to innovate and push forward the healthy, sustainable development of its forest industry as an effective implementation of rural revitalization, said Liu Tuo, General Director of Reform and Development of China's State Forestry and Grassland Administration.
Innovation will play a key part in turning the forest industry into a comprehensive industrial chain of world-class technologies, financing, and management as well as high added value, he said.
Backed by dedicated scientists and agro-technicians, the nut farming in China has seen advancement in production, processing, all the way to product design, marketing and commercialization.
The next step would be to deepen international exchange and cooperation, learn from successful precedents and broaden the platforms and channels of collaboration to make "Lincang Nuts" a regional brand prominent in the global market, suggested Liu.
At the triennial Symposium held from Oct. 17 to 19 in Lincang, macadamia growers, researchers, and merchants from over 30 countries and regions agreed to strengthen cross-border cooperation.
A standing committee of the International Macadamia Symposium was founded last Wednesday to better synchronize the business and share up-to-date findings of related research and development projects.
The nut industry is facing an enormous opportunity as the latest predictions of the world's food industry pointed to a rapid growth of demand for plant-based protein, said Stella Si, Managing Director of ACC Lab, a food security consulting firm based in the Shanghai Free Trade Zone.
Macadamia will reinforce its image as a healthy, eco-friendly, protein-rich snack and a luxurious ingredient for confectionary, beauty, and localized products in the future, said Lynne Ziehlke, Market Development Manager at Australian Macadamias.
With China's expanding plantation, the world's most expensive nut is expected to have a greater production quantity.
Currently, China is the 3rd largest producer, exporter, and trader of nuts, only after the United States and Turkey, said Michael Waring, vice chairman of the International Nut and Dried Fruit Council Foundation.
China also imported 13 percent of the world's traded supply in 2017, at 337,000 metric tonnes, he said. The appetite of the 1.3 billion Chinese nut consumers brings opportunities for the business.
The world's tree nut production will exceed 4.5 million tonnes in the near future, which means an increase of 7 percent from 2017 and is 30 percent up from the 10-year supply average, he said.
The supply value has reached nearly 35 billion U.S. dollars, an increase of over 43 percent from the prior 10-year average, he added.
While the nut business deepens its globalization, Lincang hopes to build a "silicon valley" for the nut industry around the world, said Zhao Guixiang, vice mayor of the border city.