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Xinjiang's 'Red Industry'

  The remote Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region is not only a steady oil, coal and gas provider powering China's economic development, it also gives the nation's people, and even people around the world, good things to eat.

  There are juicy, sweet Turpan grapes and Hami melons, but Xinjiang is mostly famed for its ripe, red tomatoes.

  Officials in Xinjiang realized very early that a resource dependent economy such as fossil fuels is ultimately not sustainable so they also took advantage of Xinjiang's natural conditions, and have cultivated the tomato trade, or what they call the "Red Industry."

  It stands with the area's "White Industry" (cotton) and "Black Industry" (oil and coal).

  The 30-42 North latitude is near perfect region for growing tomatoes, while Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia and Gansu have adequate sunlight and a temperature range that produces large tomatoes.

  Xinjiang's tomato industry began in 1978 and has 800,000 mu in farmland. Its related enterprises have the capacity to process 3.8 million tons of tomatoes annually.

  Xinjiang's output of tomato products exceeds 650,000 tons a year, which accounts for 90 percent of the country's total output.

  In 2007, Xinjiang's tomato exports - mainly in form of tomato paste - reached 449,000 tons, worth $290 million, which accounted for 70 percent of China's tomato exports and 25 percent of the world's total trading volume.

  Urumqi Customs figures show that from January to June 2008, Xinjiang exported over 22,400 tons of tomato paste, worth $156 million. It accounts for 58.7 percent of the country's tomato paste export.

  Tomato paste is consumed daily by people in central Asian countries, some of which neighbor Xinjiang and make the region a big export market for the red sauce.

  Xinjiang's tomato products are also sold in over 130 countries and regions, mainly to EU countries, Russia and Japan.

  In summer, many areas of Xinjiang become a sea of red as farmers pick tomatoes in the hot sun. In front of tomato processing enterprises, are bumper-to-bumper trucks packed with the fruit.

  Yan Fuyong, a tomato farmer in Yutang village, Daxiqu county of Xinjiang's Changji prefecture, is expecting a wonderful Spring Festival thanks to the 2008 harvest. He's bought some furniture for his home and a computer for his son to help celebrate the festival.

  "A truck of tomatoes weighed about 30 to 40 tons, and sold for over 10,000 yuan this year," he said, declining to say how much he made but added that it was "very satisfactory".

  Lu Wenyuan, an official from the COFCO Tunhe Manas Tomato Products Branch Company, a subsidiary of COFCO Xinjiang Tunhe Co Ltd, a leading tomato grower and tomato processing enterprise, said by signing contracts with large tomato processing enterprises, farmers are making larger and more stable incomes than before.

  Aikebaier, a 60-year-old Uygur, living in Manas county, has grown tomatoes for years and is very proud of them being sold to Europe, a place he only heard about through TV programs.

  Each year, a local enterprise signs contracts with Aikebaier's village to purchase tomatoes grown on its 2,000-mu plantation.

  The enterprise also provides Aikebaier and many others in the village with tomato seeds and sends professionals to help them plant them.

  "Our incomes doubled compared to five or six years before," Aikebaier said.

  Twists and turns

  In the past 30 years, Xinjiang's "Red Industry" has experienced success as well as difficult periods.

  Zan Hange, the Light Industry Council of Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, said: "Although Xinjiang can produce the best tomatoes in the world, the lack of experience and proper management made many Chinese tomato businesses leave the international market."

  In the mid-1990s, because of pesticide residues, mildew and other food safety problems, lots of tomato products rotted in warehouses and outside the businesses.

  Kang Yi, a trader with 10 years experience in the international tomato paste trade, also advised that Chinese enterprises should also go overseas and learn other countries' production standards and product requirements in order to produce what the world needs.

  Since then, COFCO Xinjiang Tunhe Co Ltd, Xinjiang Tianye Co Ltd and Xinjiang ChalkisTomato Co Ltd have become the leading forces in Xinjiang's tomato industry, and many smaller enterprises were eliminated.

  The two enterprises have set up a series of production standards and quality control systems and have created their own raw material supply chains.

  Both Tunhe and ChalkisTomato are also sharing a list of unqualified tomato growers and are using sophisticated pesticide residue detection equipment.