'Fruits all dead': A devastated farmer in southern China longs for rain

Oranges affected by drought in Chongqing, on Aug 25, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

CHONGQING (AFP) - For almost a decade, farmer Qin Bin, 50, has toiled his plot, growing peaches and dragon fruits for sale to visiting tourists at his orchard on the outskirts of the Chinese megacity of Chongqing.

But this year's crop is devastated, another casualty of a blistering heatwave that has engulfed southern China in the country's hottest summer on record and subsumed half its land in drought.

"This is absolutely the first time in my life encountering such a disaster," he tells AFP. "This year is a very miserable one. We should be harvesting fruits right now, but it's all gone, dead from the scorching sun."

Southern China has recorded its longest continuous period of high temperatures since records began more than 60 years ago, forcing power cuts that have hit agricultural workers hard.

The searing heat poses a severe threat to the country's autumn harvest, the Chinese government has said, promising billions of yuan in fresh aid to farmers.

But for Mr Qin, any help will come too late - his crop has dried up on the vine and with it, his main source of income.

"It's basically all dead," he says. "The government has been making a huge effort to help us, but it can only bring trees to life, not fruits."

He is far from the only one suffering in his village, home to more than a thousand acres of longans that are now ruined. "If you take a walk around our town, you can feel the scale of the disaster," he says.

The extreme heat has forced Mr Qin and fellow farmers to work odd hours - it is simply too hot to toil during the day as the mercury pushes past 40 deg C.

Instead, they work at night - from 10pm until 4am - and rest during the day.

"It's impossible to work out in the orchard, because the ground temperature is around 60 deg C...we measured it the other day," he explains.

But their efforts to save what they can may be in vain if the drought lasts into next month.

"If the heat lasts until Sept 4 as some of them said, probably more than half of the trees that we put day-and-night effort into rescuing will be dead," Mr Qin says. "It's too miserable to bear witness to."

A farmer underneath a canopy of melon plants that died, in Fuyuan village in Chongqing on Aug 19, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

Mr Qin is sceptical that much can be done to help his beleaguered community - with so much land affected, he says, the authorities have a huge task on their hands. "Those who can save themselves are doing it," he says.

The effects of the drought will continue even into 2023, as his parched trees struggle to produce fruit.

"My trees won't bloom well next season, the fruits will be greatly affected as a result."

All they can do for now, he says, is wait for rain.

Remote video URL

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.