NANCHANG, August 14, Xinhua -- Wan Liyun, son of a lumberjack in east China's Jiangxi Province, has found a way to earn money by cultivating trees rather than cutting them down.
He planted Taxus chinensis, commonly known as Chinese yew, a "living fossil" in the plant world that has existed for more than 2.5 million years. The tree is rich in taxol, a chemical substance that can be used to fight cancer but the species is now bordering on extinction.
Tucked away in the mountains, Changshui Village, Wan's hometown, is an ideal habitat for the tree. The village is surrounded by forest, with 90 percent of the village covered in trees.
Before Wan, a lot of villagers tried to plant the trees but they failed to grow. The species has a long growth period and relatively low survival rates. It is hard to cultivate even one tree, let alone in large numbers.
Wan was not daunted by his predecessors' failures, and he wanted to learn how people beyond the mountains cultivated the trees. After searching online, he found out that there were large and successful plantations of Chinese yew in the provinces of Jiangsu, Fujian, and Yunnan. He immediately visited these places and got first-hand knowledge.
Wan chose to grow the Southern Chinese yew, a sub-species that is most suitable for Changshui. Wan also worked with a professor from Shanghai Jiaotong University and cultivated a genetically-modified variety with better adaptability.
The genetically-modified tree was what Wan had longed for and the first yield turned out to be a success. On top of this, in 2010, Wan contracted 14 hectares of farmland as a Chinese yew plantation and hired 65 villagers.
Since then, Wan's business has entered a fast lane. With Chinese yew as a drawcard, Wan opened a restaurant, a hotel, and a garden to attract tourists. At the restaurant, the bark and root of the Chinese yew are perfect ingredients for healthy dishes.
Wan is not the only one benefiting from the trees. So far, more than 100 villagers have earned more money by working at Wan's plantation. Zhang Xuming, 72, has been working at Wan's plantation for four years.
"My job is to trim and watch over the trees and I can earn nearly 30,000 yuan (4,400 U.S. dollars) a year," Zhang said.
"My father and grandfather were lumberjacks, they could earn a few thousand yuan a year at most. But now, by cultivating the trees, I can earn more than 1.5 million yuan a year. Mother nature is our biggest wealth, we must try our best to protect her," Wan said.