URUMQI, Oct. 23 (Xinhua) -- It is the harvest season for cotton in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, China's largest cotton-growing area. Tens of thousands of residents from the region's poorest counties have flocked to its vast cotton fields to seek their fortune by picking cotton.
Ahmat Rishit, a farmer from Moyu County, an impoverished town on the southern brim of the Taklimakan Desert, was among the many seasonal migrant workers who were working their way out of poverty in Aksu Prefecture, a major cotton production base in southern Xinjiang.
The 53-year-old used to grow walnuts on 0.1-hectare of land and found temporary carpentry jobs in Moyu, but could barely support his family of four.
In early September, he traversed northward across the Taklimakan on a 12-hour bus ride from Moyu to Aksu's Awat County.
"Before the trip, I heard people could make up to 10,000 yuan (about 1440 U.S. dollars) in two months by picking cotton. I couldn't even believe it," Ahmat said.
"My worries were gone after Moyu's local government helped me find a cotton picking job in Awat," he said. "The cotton grower even offered to pay my bus ticket."
In September, he earned around 6,000 yuan by picking 80 kg of cotton on average every day.
He said he wished to earn enough money to send his younger son to study at a school in Urumqi, the regional capital.
Aksu Prefecture has attracted a total of 11,400 residents from other areas of Xinjiang to pick cotton in its cotton fields this year, up 21 percent year on year, according to the prefectural department of human resources and social security.
"This is my second year in Awat, and I will surely come back next year," said Abdusalam, another migrant worker from Moyu.
The 20-year-old, of athletic build, could pick up to 150 kg of cotton every day. "I want to make more money and marry my girlfriend," he said.
In 2017, Xinjiang produced 4.08 million tonnes of cotton, accounting for 74.4 percent of the national total output, up from 67.3 percent in 2016, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.
The booming cotton industry is expected to lift more Xinjiang residents out of poverty, especially residents in southern Xinjiang, home to the majority of the region's poor population.
A total of 317,400 people and 331 villages in Xinjiang were lifted out of poverty in 2017, and the poverty headcount ratio dropped from 15.5 percent in 2016 to 12.6 percent last year, according to the regional poverty alleviation and development office.
However, government data shows there are still more than 1.6 million people in Xinjiang who live under the poverty line.
As China aims to eliminate poverty by 2020, Xinjiang is carrying out a three-year poverty-relief plan, which will enable 409,000 residents to get out of poverty this year.