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Blossoming peach flowers in the shadow of Hangduan mountains

With the introduction of China's Home Responsibility System in the 1980's, the farmers of Hanyuan County in Sichuan Province found it economically beneficial to replace their rice paddies with fruit orchards. The mountainous slopes of the region lent themselves well to fruit production, particularly pears, for which Hanyuan County is now renowned.

Any crops grown beyond the quotas of China's collectivised farming program could now be sold on the open market and, in order to maximise their yield, the farmers began to increase their use of pesticides. This, in turn, had a negative effect on the population of the natural pollinators and the local bee keepers were driven to relocate their colonies out of the cultivation areas. With the disappearance of the bees, along with the desire to control the quality and purity of the pear varieties, the farmers began the labour intensive task of pollinating their crops by hand.

With simple tools such as a bamboo stick and chicken feathers they embarked on a journey of learning, not just how and when to pollinate, but when to collect the stamens, how to dry them and which varieties respond to which polliniser. Additionally, not all the pear varieties are self-compatible, so cross pollination is needed in order to achieve a desirable crop. With skill and patience, the farmers can produce a high quality, high yield product, albeit with increased labour costs than if they relied on nature alone.

As industrialisation continues to push up the cost of  hiring a workforce, the farmers must find an alternative  way of cultivating their crops in order for them to remain viable. With pear production accounting for forty to fifty precent of the household income, the stakes are high and adaptability will be key to their success. The return of the natural pollinators is possible, but this is unlikely without a coordinated approach to limiting the use of agrochemicals.

What the future holds is uncertain and further work is needed to find a successful solution that balances economy with ecology.

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Shiqin Tang (38) stands amongs his  pear trees, that he planted 20 years ago. His orchard consists of 45 trees.

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Every member of the family is involved in the hand pollination process in some way. Old woman selecting the stamens from the Yali ( main polliniser) flowers.This is a preparation process before the farmers go to hand pollinate. Farmers needs to dry the stamens on 20-23C temperature.


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QiacoMei Chen (19) with the pollination stick and pollen bottle. The pollen bottle contains the prepared pollen: a mixture of pollen, filaments and anther wall.

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The transport of the masses: motorcycles are the most common form of transport in the mountainous areas of Jiuxiang.

Young couple on its way to start pollinating the pear trees.

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Young boy in his parents pear orchard.

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Farmer passes the peach orchard on a man-made path. Chinese farmers often take small breaks in the after noon  in order to recoup their energy.

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The average number of pear trees owned by each household is around 80-110. To pollinate these trees 3-6 polliniser trees are sufficient. A 10 year old polliniser tree can produce flowers enough to pollinate approximately 50 trees.

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Shuqin Lee (50) takes a break during the process of hand pollinating. Wife and husband often seen together pollinating trees in collaboration.The woman pollinate the lower parts of the tree whilst the man completes the upper parts.

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Opening pear flowers on the slopes.

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Yali flowers on the ground. The flowers are useless without their anthers.

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In preparation for hand pollinating.

Woman brushing off the stamens from the Yali variety and collecting in to a pot before they start the drying process.

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Chen Tao and his mother working on their orchards in Dayan. They use a duster made of chicken feathers. It is degreased with alcohol before tying on sticks. The duster touch pollen mixture, and then are shaken over the target pear trees for 1-3 times a day in order to ensure adequate pollination of pears.

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Chen Tao pollinating the family orchard

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The pollinisers are usually planted within the orchards or in home gardens, therefore the flowers will not be stolen: the polliniser flowers were sold costly amongst farmers.

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Farmer prepares a small hand pollination device

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Chicken feathers waiting to be used to make pollination stick.The big pollination brush made of chicken feathers can pollinate at least 50 inflorescences with one touch. The smaller the brush the fewer flowers are pollinated. The pollination brush touching pollen from the pollen bottle once, can be used to pollinate around 20-30 flowers.

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Zhong (26) enjoys a cigarette in the pear room. The harvest season starts from July through August. Most growers determine the harvest date by fruit colour and taste, but more commonly by price in recent years. Farmers don't use any special method to store pears, they are simply just piled up in the corner of the room. Due to high yield, the pears that consumed by households, accounts for a very low percentage. Apart from the unmarkatable fruits, amount of pears kept household consumption ranged from 50-200kgs only.

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Woman pollinate the upper flowers.The time gap between the first bloom flowers and the last bloomed ones are varies with weather.When the weather is fine most flowers bloom within one to three days.Pollination has to be completed within this time frame, and has to be conducted up to 5-6 times in order to pollinate each flower.

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Farmer holds the Yali flowers. He must dry them in the next few days.

The drying process requires special temperature conditions.

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Peach orchard surrounded by garlic fields.

In early spring farmers start working on these fields.

It's just as painstaking as the hand pollination, but give them  decent financial supplement income throughout the year.

The hand pollinating season starts right after selling the many kilograms of garlic.


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Farmer awaits by the almost dried Liushahe river.

The river is rich in water in the winter time, but this time of the year it runs very dry as no water from the mountains feeding it.


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The main square in Jiuxiang fully prepared for the flower festival

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A woman with her baby from Chengdu visiting the flower festival in Jiuxiang.

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Farmer walks with his home made cartwheel that he uses for drying petals.

Hanyuan is an agricultural county. Around 80% of the population are engaged in various land based activities. The main crops include garlis, rapeseed oil, peas, broad beans, Chinese cabbage, onions and tomatoes.

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Girl on the way to school.

90% of the children are in education in Jiuxiang,

The next generation is hardly seen pollinating the flowers, They focus on to move to bigger cities as soon as they finished their secondary education.

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"If you dream now, you will not be able to make your dream come true later" School girl poses in Jiuxiang only school. The younger generation hardy be seen to take part of the hand pollination, as they are too busy with school work. in Jiuxiang 90% of the children are schooled. This generation is keen on relocation to bigger cities as soon as they completed their secondary education.

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The market house where all the business takes place between farmers and traders

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Flowering slopes in Hangduan mountains

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On the very top of the tree. Aged farmer works on his orchard. In Juixiang even the oldest are capable to complete physically challenging tasks like pollinating each blossom one by one even in the most difficult and dangerous environment.

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