Watermelons have brought Beijing farmer Li Wanbo 300,000 yuan (about 46,200 U.S. dollars) this summer alone, a great leap from when he worked in the city proper with a monthly salary of 4,000 yuan.
"I grew up with watermelons," said the 29-year-old man from Panggezhuang, a township in southwestern Beijing famous for its sweet and crispy watermelons. "My father grew the flowering plant when I was a child, selling them near our home."
According to Li, new developments in technology have enabled increased melon yields, as well as more ways to sell them.
"We now sell the fruit online through live-streaming shows to consumers across the country and deliver them via convenient express networks," he said.
Panggezhuang is now home to 6,500 watermelon farmers like Li. Located on the alluvial plain of the Yongding River, the township boasts fertile soil with plenty of the trace elements required for growing watermelons, and has long enjoyed the reputation of China's "Land of Watermelons."
The annual output of watermelons in the township can hit 110 million kg, with the sales volume reaching 230 million yuan a year, according to the local agricultural service center.
In recent years, Panggezhuang has been stepping up efforts to build its own brand featuring small varieties.
"Look at our Panggezhuang watermelons. They are only the size of two fists. The skin is very thin. You can peel it and eat it upon twisting the melon off the vine. It's juicy and sweet," said a live-streamer nicknamed Xiaojinge, as he displayed the small fruit on his show.
There has been a significant change in watermelon planting in Panggezhuang since 2000, with larger numbers of small watermelons weighing from 1.5 kg to 2.5 kg, rather than the traditional big ones weighing from 6 kg to 8 kg, said Chen Zongguang, an official of the local agriculture service center.
Now 90 percent of Panggezhuang farmers grow small varieties. "Relatively small watermelons sell better, as they can be eaten up at one time, which helps maintain freshness while reducing waste," Chen said.
Last year, to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 epidemic, the township government took the initiative of connecting 10 watermelon cooperatives in Panggezhuang with an e-commerce sales platform, boosting sales both online and offline.
From January to December in 2020, professional cooperatives sold more than 4.56 million kg of watermelons online through e-commerce platforms such as JD.com and Taobao, registering a sales volume of nearly 45.25 million yuan. Meanwhile, over 10.99 million kg of watermelons were sold offline, with a sales volume of 71.616 million yuan.
"The small watermelon represents a big industry," Li said. "The watermelon has allowed us to construct buildings, buy new cars and be better off." Enditem