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When did the Chinese begin using night soil as fertilizer?

When did the Chinese begin using night soil as fertilizer?



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Farmers in China, Japan and Korea use human waste as fertilizer. But farmers in other parts of Asia where the main crop is paddy rice, like Thailand and Malaysia, do not.

Some sources (like King 1911) argue that this was necessary in order to maintain soil fertility and support large populations over centuries of continuous use of fields. But online sources are quite vague about when the practice started - the Wiki entry on night soil mentions the 9th century in Japan, and McGarry gives the Yuan dynasty (circa 13th century). Often it's just “thousands of years.”

Do we know anything about when precisely the use of night soil began? Presumably it originated in China. It would be interesting if we could show that this was an innovation that resulted from population pressure or some other change in the ecosystem.

References from this page: http://www.agroecology.org/Case%20Studies/nightsoil.html


The Old Chinese character for fertilisers is the same as the word as fecal matter. Thus, we cannot assume that the fertilisers mentioned in Spring and Autumn texts were actually excrement. It is known that at least in some cases, they were referring to (presumably compost) weed or grass.

The earliest explicit reference of using human waste as fertilisers seems to date to the late Western Han dynasty. The Book of Fan Sheng-Chih, which was written around the reign of Emperor Cheng discussed various methods of raising agricultural productivity extensively, including, of course, applying fertilisers.

While the bulk of the original text has been lost, part of the surviving 3,500 characters mentions that:

《漢·氾勝之書》 種麻,豫調和田。二月下旬,三月上旬,傍雨種之。麻生布葉,鋤之。率九尺一樹。樹高一尺,以蠶矢糞之,樹三升;無蠶矢,以溷中熟糞糞之亦善,樹一升。

Growing hemp… One foot tall, fertilise with silkworm excrement, three cupsper tree; if lacking silkworms excrement, then fertilising with feces from toilets is good too…

It is in all likelihood impossible to know precisely when a practice like this began. Nonetheless, based on the above, we can probably date the start of wider adoption to around the Qin or Han dynasties and possibly late Warring States.


Is It Safe To Use Compost Made From Treated Human Waste?

Through the City Land Application of Biosolids Program in Geneva, Ill., the fertilizer supplement is provided to local farmers at no cost.

Any gardener will tell you that compost is "black gold," essential to cultivating vigorous, flavorful crops. But it always feels like there's never enough, and its weight and bulk make it tough stuff to cart around.

I belong to a community garden in Washington, D.C., that can't get its hands on enough compost. So you can imagine my delight when I learned that the U.S. Composting Council was connecting community gardeners with free material from local facilities through its Million Tomato Compost Campaign.

I signed us up last month, and was promptly contacted by Clara Mills, the environmental coordinator for Spotsylvania County in central Virginia. Mills volunteered to deliver a dump truck full of compost to our garden from her facility, an hour away. It sounded too good to be true. Then one of my fellow gardeners noticed the source of the Spotsylvania compost: biosolids, or human poop that's been treated and transformed into organic fertilizer.

About 50 percent of the biosolids produced in the U.S. are returned to farmland through a process that is heavily regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency. Even so, some people – including the Sierra Club — remain skeptical of the use of this waste product in food production. They worry that heavy metals, pathogens or pharmaceuticals might survive the treatment process and contaminate crops. So what's an urban gardener to do in light of mixed perceptions about whether it's OK to use poop to grow your food?

I set out to investigate this, hoping that whatever I learned would help my garden decide whether to accept the donation or not.

First, remember that for thousands of years, before the invention of synthetic fertilizer in 1913, many farmers utilized their decomposed sewage, sometimes called "night soil," to replenish the soil with nutrients lost in farming. The Chinese were especially adept at using human waste this way – one historical account notes that in 1908, a contractor paid the city of Shanghai $31,000 in gold for the privilege of collecting 78,000 tons of human waste and carting it off to spread on fields.

When growing urban areas required that sewage be piped outside of the city, the practice dropped off and attention turned to improving wastewater treatment to avoid polluting waterways. Raw waste is, of course, nasty stuff until all the dangerous bacteria have been killed off, either by heat or anaerobic digestion.

But the sludge was still piling up in landfills, so scientists began testing how to use it in agriculture safely the waste was a free source of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus, afterall. And letting it sit in landfills or incinerating it created its own environmental issues. By the 1990s, the Environmental Protection Agency created strict standards with two tiers for biosolids still in use today. To sell Class A biosolids to farmers and gardeners, facilities have to ensure that there are no dangerous heavy metals or bacteria in the end product.

The ick factor, however, has not faded entirely. While plenty of large-scale farms like this one in Kansas City, Mo., use biosolids, they are not officially allowed in organic agriculture. Bowing to public input, the U.S. Department of Agriculture decided in 2000 to prohibit the use of sludge in the National Organic Program. This was in spite of the fact that "there is no current scientific evidence that use of sewage sludge in the production of foods presents unacceptable risks to the environment or human health," USDA spokesman Samuel Jones tells The Salt.

A handful of activists have also sounded the alarm on the widespread use of biosolids in conventional agriculture. They allege, among other things, that the EPA-approved treatment of biosolids doesn't address all the possible contaminants in the waste.

A National Academy of Sciences report in 2002 also stated that while there have been some anecdotal stories of adverse health effects from exposure to biosolids, there are no studies that prove a causal link. Still, the NAS said that since biosolids may contain substances like chemicals and pharmaceuticals, more epidemiological research was needed to explore possible health effects of using them to grow food. (Currently, the U.S. Geological Survey is investigating exactly what happens to plants when biosolids are applied to soil.)

Still, some scientists argue that over the years, the biosolids industry has gotten much better at keeping contaminants out of the final product.

"We have systemically looked at all kinds of potential hazards," says Ian Pepper, a professor and director of the Environmental Research Laboratory at the University of Arizona who has been studying biosolids for 30 years. "Invariably we've found that the risks are much lower than those suggested by environmental activists."

And other proponents say that it's hard to prove that biosolids are a significant source of contaminants.

"These compounds are ubiquitous in the environment – in the soil, water, within our bodies," says Neil Zahradka, who overseas biosolids for the state of Virginia's department of environmental quality. "So the question is: If it's in the biosolids, then is that a problem? None of studies so far have been able to conclusively say that yes there's an issue here."

As for the pathogens, Zahradka contends that the composting process, one of a few different treatment methods (and the one used in Spotsylvania County, which offered compost to my garden), eliminates them.

Here's how it works: Spotsylvania receives the raw sewage and mixes it with mulch. The carbon in the mulch speeds up the decomposition process, and generates heat. The material reaches 160 plus degrees for 21 days, says Mills. That's enough to kill all harmful bacteria, she says. But the facility also tests the material regularly to be sure the pathogens and dangerous heavy metals are below detectable levels.

So will my garden be using these biosolids anytime soon? We'll have to take a vote to decide. In the meantime, it's interesting to see other urban gardeners getting on board with biosolids.


When did the Chinese begin using night soil as fertilizer? - History

The cultivation and use of hemp
(Cannabis sativa L.) in ancient China

Xiaozhai Lu 1 and Robert C. Clarke 2

Figure 1. Hemp (Cannabis sativa) was grown throughout eastern China by the year 200 BC.

Hemp in ancient Chinese literature
Hemp was one of the earliest crop plants of China. Through long term efforts, the ancient Chinese domesticated hemp from a wild plant into a cultivated crop. According to the Chinese historic records and archeological data, the history of Chinese hemp cultivation and use spans approx. 5,000 to 6,000 years. The archeological record shows that China was the earliest region to cultivate and use hemp. From the time of the earliest primitive societies (about 4,000 -5,000 years ago) to the Qin and Hah dynasties (221 BC to 220 AD) ancient Chinese techniques of hemp sowing, cultivation, and processing developed rapidly and became fairly advanced.
The earliest Neolithic farming communities along the Wei and Yellow rivers cultivated hemp along with millet, wheat, beans, and rice. The oldest Chinese agricultural treatise is the Xia Xiao Zheng written circa the 16th century BC which names hemp as one of the main crops grown in ancient China (Yu 1987).
Remains of Cannabis fibers and seeds have been recovered from archeological sites especially near the Yellow and Yangtze rivers.
In the ancient Chinese works The Book of Songs (a book of culture and social customs) and The Annals (written by Bu-Wei Leu during the Warring States period (476 to 221 BC), there are records of six kinds of crops that the ancient Chinese generally planted. These crops were named "he, su, dao, shu, ma, and mai". 'Ma' is Cannabis hemp.
The Book of Odes or Shih Ching, written during the Western Zhou dynasty, describes the life of the Chinese people from the 11th to the 6th century BC and discusses hemp cultivation for both fiber and seed. The area whose description is encompassed by The Book of Odes lies south of present-day Beijing (Ho 1969).
There are also records about hemp cultivation and fertilization methods from the Zhou dynasty (1100 to 256 BC),

"Hoe up all the weeds in the field during the summer solstice (June 21), let them dry in the sun, and then bum them into ash. All these ashes will permeate into the soil after a heavy rain and the soil will be fertilized."

This is also one of the earliest mentions of using potash fertilizer in agriculture.
There are other ancient Chinese agriculture books such as the Si Min Yue Ling written by Cui Shi during the Eastern Han dynasty (25 to 220 AD), Ji Sheng's Book written by Ji Sheng during the Western Han dynasty (206 BC to 24 AD), and Qi Min Yao Shu written by Gui Shi Xian during the Northern Wei dynasty (386 to 534 AD). All of these books contain accounts of hemp cultivation.
Ancient Chinese hemp cultivation techniques of collecting seeds, sowing time, field controls, and their influence on hemp quality were also recorded in the Essential Arts for the People or Qi Min Yao Shu which is a precious legacy of ancient Chinese science written 1,400 years ago. The Essential Arts for the People systematically summarized the ancient Chinese techniques of hemp cultivation.
In the Essential Arts for the People there are accurate records about the relation between the male hemp plant scattering pollen and the female hemp plant bearing seed.

"If we pull out the male hemp before it scatters pollen, the female plant cannot make seed.

Otherwise, the female plant's seed production will be influenced by the male hemp plants scattering pollen and during this period of time, the fiber of the male hemp plant is the best."

This ancient Chinese discovery of the dioecious nature of hemp came at least 1,500 years earlier than any mention in European publications.
The Essential Arts for the People also recommends that adzuki beans (Phaseolus angularis) is the best green manure crop to follow hemp (Bray 1984). This is one of the earliest mentions of the use of green manures, cover crops, and rotational cropping.
The Record of Rites or Li Chi is an ancient Chinese book of classical Confucian works written by his followers during the Qin dynasty (221 to 207 BC) and contains many detailed references to hemp. The Record of Rites describes the uses of hemp as the cloth of the peasant masses. Hemp textiles were common items of early Chinese culture used for many purposes throughout life, then, from swaddling clothes to funerary shrouds.
The cultivation technique of hemp was increasingly perfected during the Qin (221 to 207 BC) and Han dynasties (206 BC to 220 AD) there are detailed descriptions in Ji Sheng's Book of hemp's cultivation techniques and quality control,

"Deep plow and fertilize the soil before sowing the seed. When spring comes, about February to March, select the dusk of 4 rainy day to sow seeds. Remove the hemp's big leaves when it is growing.

Then thin out seedlings according to the distance of 9 per chi 3 . Fertilize the hemp with silkworm excrement when it has grown to one chi tall, and when it has grown to three chi tall, fertilize it with silkworm and pig excrement. Water the hemp frequently, and if there is much rain, the quantity of water should be decreased. The water from wells should be used where there is no river near the field and it should be warmed by the sun before using. By using all of these controls, the yield of dry stalks and leaves from each mu 4 could be 50-100 shi 5 and the lowest yield could be 30 shi. The quality of hemp fiber depends not only on the field controls, but also on the sowing time. If the sowing time is early, the fiber will be thick and strong and can be harvested early. Otherwise, the fiber will not be mature. So, it is better to sow hemp seed early instead of late."

We learn from these records that Han dynasty farmers not only knew to select the appropriate season to sow hemp, but also knew the principles of field controls, and selected the higher quality fibers from the male plants to spin textile yarn.
The Si Min Yue Ling is another ancient Chinese book which was written during the Eastern Han dynasty (25 to 220 AD). There are descriptions of hemp sowing and harvesting times in the book such as,

"Plow and fertilize in January. In February, sow the female hemp's seeds, and on a rainy day in May sow the male hemp's seeds. Then, harvest the hemp and spin it into cloth in October."

These records show that some of the hemp cultivation techniques used during the Han dynasty were quite different from the techniques used today. Perhaps the ancient Chinese sowed the seeds that were destined to be the seed plants early, so that they could reach a large size, before they were pollinated by the late sown male plants. This method could increase seed yield significantly.
The sowing methods written in the Essential Arts for the People are,

"First, soak the seed in water and sow them as soon as they germinate. Soak the seed in water for about the same time required to cook two shi of rice. Then spread the soaked seeds on the bamboo bed for about three to four cun 6 in thickness. Stir the seed several times and after one night they will germinate. It is best for hemp to grow after a rain, when the rain has permeated into the soil. Second, in order to avoid plant diseases and insect pests, hemp should rotate with wheat, bean, and cereals. Third, different methods should be used with different soil moistures."

Field control methods are also described in the Essential Arts for the People.

"Disperse the sparrows for several days in order to protect the seeds that have just germinated from being eaten by them. When the seedlings have grown for some time, thin out weak ones so that there is some distance between two seedlings and good seedlings can grow well."

A simple method of distinguishing different sexes of hemp seeds was also presented in the Essential Arts for the People.

"Generally, male hemp seeds are white. There are two ways to examine the quality of the white seeds. The first is to bite a seed with the teeth, and if the inside of the seed is very dry, it should not be sown. Otherwise the seeds can be sown. The second method is to put the white seed in the mouth for some time. The seeds that do not turn black are good."

This passage indicates that ancient Chinese farmers already knew the methods for distinguishing the sex and quality of hemp seeds 1,800 years ago. Although the correctness of these methods is dubious, the innovative spirit of the ancient Chinese farmers is commendable.
The sowing time stated in this book is the same as that stated in the Si Min Yue Ling. A warning about late sowing is also included. The hemp sowing time is around the spring equinox.

"Sowing seeds ten days before the summer solstice is called late seeding. Late sown hemp will not grow vigorously and its fiber will be too thin and light to spin into yarn."

Hemp as a fiber crop in ancient China
The ancient Chinese used the hemp plant for many different purposes. The bast fiber of the male plant was used to spin yarn and weave cloth. From the time of the earliest Chinese societies, until cotton was introduced into China during the Northern Song dynasty (960 to 1127 AD), hemp textile was the main cloth worn by the ancient Chinese. Many of the accounts of hemp use for cordage and textiles contained in the ancient Chinese texts have been corroborated by archeological discoveries.
During the Western Zhou dynasty (1100 to 771 BC) the hats of nobles were made of hemp.
The fine diameter of the yarn in the cloth was equivalent to modern 70-80 count yarn. High-quality raw material, along with advanced cultivation and processing techniques were needed to produce such fine cloth. The Book of Songs was written during the Western Zhou dynasty into the Spring and Autumn period (1100 BC to 600 BC). In a poem named 'The Pool in Front of the Main Gate' (written about 900 BC) in the chapter entitled 'Culture of the Chen State' (in southeast Henan province) there is a reference to hemp
"The pool in front of the east gate could be used to Ou Ma. The pool in front of the east gate could be used to Ou Ning . . .". The phrase 'Ou Ma' means 'to ret hemp' and the phrase 'Ou Ning' means 'to ret high-quality white hemp'.
The Classics of History or Shu Ching, the earliest Chinese history, mentions the value of hemp for fiber, and reported that hemp was grown in present day Hunan and Anhui provinces (Li 1974).
The Er Ya, the earliest Chinese dictionary with cultural, agricultural, and social contents, was written about 2,200 years ago during the Qin (221 to 207 BC) or Western Han (206 BC to 24 AD) dynasties. In this book, there is a sentence

"Male hemp is called xi ma, female hemp is called ju ma.". This quote shows that the important discovery of hemp's dioecious sexuality was first recorded at a very early date in China. There are more mentions of hemp in this book, such as,

"Ju ma grows tall and straight. Its fiber is very thick and strong, and its seed can be eaten. The fiber of xi ma is thin and soft, and can be used to spin cloth.".

Several archeological discoveries have confirmed the accounts of the use of hemp textiles described in ancient Chinese books. Several pieces of pure hemp textiles were discovered in the ruins of the Shang dynasty period (1700 to 1100 BC) near Taixi village in Hebei province.
Imprints of hemp textiles and cordage adorn several fragments of pottery found amongst the ruins of Xi'an Banpo village in Shaanxi province. Through the C14 dating of these remains, they were confirmed as cultural relics of the Yangshao culture (4115 +/- 110 BC to 3535 +/105 BC) (Xi'an Banpo Museum 1963). Although the imprints of textiles and cordage could have been made from fibers other than hemp, hemp remains the most likely choice. Archeological strata at Xi'an Banpo contained large amounts of pollen identified as belonging to the genus Humulus. Humulus is the closest relative of Cannabis and their pollen grains are very similar in appearance. Pollen grains of Cannabis could easily have been confused with, and incorrectly identified as, Humulus pollen (Li 1974). Pottery fragments bearing rope imprints, have also been recovered from a Lung-shan culture site at Hsichou in Hunan province dated at between 230 +/- 95 BC and 1170 +/- BC (Li 1974).
Hemp cloth has a long association with burial rites. Corpses were often shrouded in hemp cloth before interment. Hemp corpse covers were recovered from Western Han Dynasty (206 BC to 24 AD) tombs in Gansu province. According to Li (1974), the hemp cloth outer shroud covered silk dresses and were tied with hemp ropes.
A piece of hemp cloth was unearthed at a ruin named Ma Wang Dui No. 1 near Changsha in Hunan province. Careful analysis showed that the fiber diameter was 21.83 microns, and the fiber cross sectional area was 153.01 square microns. Both values are very close to those common for present day hemp varieties. The weave of the cloth is relatively tight, indicating that weaving techniques had become quite advanced by this time.
A piece of hemp textile with a silver-white design was unearthed from a tomb in a cliff near Guixi in Jiangxi province and dated to the Spring and Autumn (770 to 476 BC) or Warring States period (476 to 221 BC).
During the Tang dynasty (618 to 907 AD), China had close trade relations with central and west Asian countries and there are many traces of hemp along the Silk Road. Two pairs of hemp shoes and a piece of hemp cloth were found in a tomb dated to 721 A.D. near Turfan in Xinjiang province of western China.
These archeological data show that the ancient Chinese had already known how to cultivate hemp and use its fiber to weave cloth at a very early date.

The use of hemp for paper making in ancient China
Hemp fibers were also used long ago in ancient China to make paper. Pounded and disintegrated hemp fiber was used to make the world's oldest piece of paper, recovered from a tomb near Xi'an in Shaanxi province dating from 140-87 BC (Temple 1986). Ba Qiao paper which was made during the Western Han dynasty (206 BC to 24 AD) was unearthed near Xi'an in Shaanxi province and analysis showed that it was made from hemp fiber (Shaanxi Museum Xi'an). Scraps of hemp paper have also been recovered from Han dynasty tombs in Shanxi province. A piece of hemp paper bearing Chinese characters from the Analects of Confucius or Lun Yu was found near Turfan in Xinjiang province in a tomb dated to 1100 AD. White hemp paper shoes sewn with white hemp thread, and a piece of hemp fabric, were also recovered (Li 1974).

Hemp as a food crop in ancient China
Cannabis seed was used for food by the ancient Chinese. The Book of Songs has the following mention of the use of hemp seed for food,

Hemp was commonly grown as a seed crop throughout the Spring and Autumn period (770 to 476 BC), Warring States period (476 to 221 BC), the Qin dynasty (221 to 207 BC), and the Han dynasty (206 BC to 220 AD).
The Li Qi places hemp among the "five grains" of ancient China which included barley, rice, wheat, and soybeans. Hemp seed remained a staple of the Chinese diet through the 10th century when other higher quality grain became more widespread (Li 1974).
There are hemp seeds and inscriptions of the characters ta ma on bones found amongst the relics unearthed from the Jin dynasty (265 to 420 AD) ruins in Henan province.
Among the sacrificial objects unearthed from the Han dynasty era Ma Wang Dui tomb near Changsha in Hunan province, hemp seeds were stored together with those of rice, millet, and wheat. Hemp seed remains were also found inside of earthenware grain storage jars recovered from a tomb at Shao-kou near the Han dynasty capital of Lo-yang in present day Hunan province (Yu 1977).

The use of hemp as medicine in ancient China
Chinese accounts of medical or euphoriant use appear very early. In Shanxi Province, jade stone 'oath documents' contain the archaic character ma for hemp, along with the connotation of negative that denotes the stupefying nature of Cannabis hemp. This is the earliest reference to the psychoactive and psychological effects of Cannabis. The ancient Chinese medical texts make a clear distinction between ma fen or toxic, and ma ze or nontoxic, Cannabis seeds. The first mention of the medical or euphoriant uses of Cannabis appear in the Materia Medica Sutra or Pen Ts'ao originally attributed to Emperor Shen Nung who lived around 2,000 BC. However, the original book of the Materia Medica Sutra is lost and the oldest version in existence dates back to the first or second century AD. The Materia Medica Sutra says that,

"Ma fen (Cannabis seed) . . . if taken in excess will produce hallucinations (literally 'seeing devils'). If taken over a long term, it makes one communicate with spirits and lightens one's body."

During the second century AD the famous Chinese surgeon Hua T'o successfully used an anesthetic made from Cannabis seeds and wine during complicated abdominal surgery (Li 1974). The Ming'i Pieh'lu, written by the famous physician T'ao Hung Ching in the 5th century AD, says that,

"Ma fen is not much used in prescriptions (now-a-days). Necromancers use it in combination with ginseng to set forward time in order to reveal future events."

From the description of the spicy taste and the psychoactive effects of the ma fen Cannabis seed, it seems likely that the Materia Medica Sutra and the Ming'i Pieh'lu were actually referring to the resinous bract that surrounds each seed, rather than the seed itself. The quantity of Cannabis used must have been fairly large to cause an anesthetic effect (Mechoulam 1986). The wine may have served to extract the active compounds from the Cannabis and concentrate them. Thus, these are the earliest Chinese written records acknowledging the euphoriant, psychoactive properties of Cannabis.

Conclusion
Hemp was one of the main crops in ancient China and it holds important status in China's long history of farming fiber crops for spinning yarn and weaving cloth, making paper, and formulating traditional medicines. All of the traditional uses of hemp were invented in China.
The earliest hemp cordage and textile remains, the earliest records of hemp seed use for food, the first paper, and the first medicinal use of hemp can all be traced back to ancient China. Although the medicinal value of Cannabis was recognized early on, the recreational value of Cannabis smoking and eating for its inebriating effects seems to have eluded the ancient Chinese. Since China has such an ancient cultural association with hemp, it makes sense that China is currently the world leader in hemp production.

  • Bray, Francesca 1984. Early Chinese references to soybeans and adzuki beans in green manures and crop rotations: In F. Bray 1984. Science and Civilization in China Vol. 6 Biology and Biological Technology Part 11: Agriculture, Cambridge, England, Cambridge University Press: 431.
  • Ho, P. T. 1969. The Loess and the Origin of Chinese Agriculture. American Historical Review 75(1): 1-36.
  • Li, Hui-Lin 1974. An archeological and historical account of Cannabis in China. Economic Botany 28(4): 437-448.
  • Mechoulam, Raphael 1986. The pharmacohistory of Cannabis sativa: in Mechoulam, R. (Ed.) Cannabinoids as Therapeutic Agents. CRC Press: Boca Raton, Florida: 1- 19.
  • Temple, Robert K. G. 1986. China - Land of Discovery. Patrick Stephens, Wellingborough, UK: 81.
  • Yu, Ying-shih 1977. Han China: In K. C. Chang (ed.) Food in Chinese Culture. New Haven, CT and London, Yale Univ. Press: 53-83.
  • Yu, Youtai 1987. Agricultural history over seven thousand years in China: In Sylvan Wittwer et. al. (eds.) Feeding a Billion: Frontiers of Chinese Agriculture: 19-33
  • Xi'an Banpo Museum Publication 1963
  • ook het electoraat van de Volksraad klein bleef nog in 1939 bestond dit uit slechts 2228 personen. Zie: M.C. Ricklefs, A history of Modem Indonesia (London /Basingstoke: MacMillan 1981) 153.

1 Chief Production Engineer, Dong Ping Hemp Mill, Shandong, P.R.C.

2 International Hemp Association, Postbus 75007, 1070 AA Amsterdam, The Netherlands


China's Great Famine: the true story

S mall and stocky, neat in dress and mild of feature, Yang Jisheng is an unassuming figure as he bustles through the pleasantly shabby offices, an old-fashioned satchel thrown over one shoulder. Since his retirement from China's state news agency he has worked at the innocuously titled Annals of the Yellow Emperor journal, where stacks of documents cover chipped desks and a cockroach circles our paper cups of green tea.

Yet the horror stories penned by the 72-year-old from this comforting, professorial warren in Beijing are so savage and excessive they could almost be taken as the blackest of comedies the bleakest of farces the most extreme of satires on fanaticism and tyranny.

A decade after the Communist party took power in 1949, promising to serve the people, the greatest manmade disaster in history stalks an already impoverished land. In an unremarkable city in central Henan province, more than a million people – one in eight – are wiped out by starvation and brutality over three short years. In one area, officials commandeer more grain than the farmers have actually grown. In barely nine months, more than 12,000 people – a third of the inhabitants – die in a single commune a tenth of its households are wiped out. Thirteen children beg officials for food and are dragged deep into the mountains, where they die from exposure and starvation. A teenage orphan kills and eats her four-year-old brother. Forty-four of a village's 45 inhabitants die the last remaining resident, a woman in her 60s, goes insane. Others are tortured, beaten or buried alive for declaring realistic harvests, refusing to hand over what little food they have, stealing scraps or simply angering officials.

When the head of a production brigade dares to state the obvious – that there is no food – a leader warns him: "That's right-deviationist thinking. You're viewing the problem in an overly simplistic matter."

Page after page – even in the drastically edited English translation, there are 500 of them – his book, Tombstone, piles improbability upon terrible improbability. But Yang did not imagine these scenes. Perhaps no one could. Instead, he devoted 15 years to painstakingly documenting the catastrophe that claimed at least 36 million lives across the country, including that of his father.

The Great Famine remains a taboo in China, where it is referred to euphemistically as the Three Years of Natural Disasters or the Three Years of Difficulties. Yang's monumental account, first published in Hong Kong, is banned in his homeland.

He had little idea of what he would find when he started work: "I didn't think it would be so serious and so brutal and so bloody. I didn't know that there were thousands of cases of cannibalism. I didn't know about farmers who were beaten to death.

"People died in the family and they didn't bury the person because they could still collect their food rations they kept the bodies in bed and covered them up and the corpses were eaten by mice. People ate corpses and fought for the bodies. In Gansu they killed outsiders people told me strangers passed through and they killed and ate them. And they ate their own children. Terrible. Too terrible."

For a moment he stops speaking.

"To start with, I felt terribly depressed when I was reading these documents," he adds. "But after a while I became numbed – because otherwise I couldn't carry on."

Whether it is due to this process, or more likely his years working within the system, Yang is absolutely self-possessed. His grandfatherly smile is intermittently clipped by caution as he answers a question. Though a sense of deep anger imbues his book, it is all the more powerful for its restraint.

"There's something about China that seems to require sharp-elbowed intellectuals," says Jo Lusby, head of China operations for Penguin, the publishers of Tombstone. "But the people with the loudest voices aren't necessarily the ones with the most interesting things to say. Yang Jisheng comes across as a sweet old man, but he has a core of steel. He has complete integrity."

He is, she points out, part of a generation of quietly committed scholars. Despite its apparently quaint title, Annals of the Yellow Emperor is a bold liberal journal that has repeatedly tackled sensitive issues. But writing Tombstone was also a personal mission. Yang was determined to "erect a tombstone for my father", the other victims and the system that killed them.

The book opens with Yang's return from school to find his father dying: "He tried to extend his hand to greet me but couldn't lift it … I was shocked with the realisation that 'skin and bones' referred to something so horrible and cruel," he writes.

His village had become a ghost town, with fields dug bare of shoots and trees stripped of bark. For all his remorse and grief, he regarded the death as an individual family's tragedy: "I was 18 at the time and I only knew what the Communist party told me. Everyone was fooled," he says. "I was very red. I was on a propaganda team and I believed my father's death was a personal misfortune. I never thought it was the government's problem."

A manmade disaster . starving children in Shanghai. Photograph: TopFoto Photograph: Topography/ TopFoto

He joined state news agency Xinhua after his graduation, while the political madness of the Cultural Revolution was wreaking fresh havoc on the country: "When I look back on what I wrote [in that first decade], I should have burned all of it," he says. Even as he wrote his paeans to the party, his job began to offer glimpses of the truth behind the facade. One day, he was shocked to overhear a senior leader in Hubei province say that 300,000 people had died there – the first hint that his father's death was not an isolated incident. It was, he says, a gradual awakening. He continued to work for Xinhua, a task made easier by the country's reform and opening process and his own evolution by the third decade of his career, he says, "I had my independent thinking and was telling the truth." That was when his work on Tombstone began: "I just had a very strong desire to find out the facts. I was cheated and I don't want to be cheated again."

Paradoxically, it was his work for Xinhua that enabled him to unearth the truth about the famine, as he toured archives on the pretext of a dull project on state agricultural policies, armed with official letters of introduction.

Numerous people helped him along the way local officials and other Xinhua staff. Did they realise what he was working on? "Yes, they knew," he says.

Only once, at the archives of south-western Guizhou, was he almost rumbled. "The people who worked there said: 'We can't just let you in you need permission from the director,'" Yang recalls. "The director said: 'I have to get permission from the provincial party vice–secretary.' So we drove to see the provincial party vice–secretary. He said: 'I have to ask the party secretary.' The party secretary said: 'I have to ask the central government.'"

He pauses. "If the central government had known, I would have been in a lot of trouble." Yang made his excuses and left.

Half a century on, the government still treats the famine as a natural disaster and denies the true death toll. "The root problem is the problem of the system. They don't dare to admit the system's problems … It might influence the legitimacy of the Communist party," Yang says.

The death toll is staggering. "The most officials have admitted is 20 million," he says, but he puts the total at 36 million. It is "equivalent to 450 times the number of people killed by the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki … and greater than the number of people killed in the first world war," he writes. Many think even this is a conservative figure: in his acclaimed book Mao's Great Famine, Frank Dikotter estimates that the toll reached at least 45 million.

Tombstone meticulously demonstrates that the famine was not only vast, but manmade and not only manmade but political, born of totalitarianism. Mao Zedong had vowed to build a communist paradise in China through sheer revolutionary zeal, collectivising farmland and creating massive communes at astonishing speed. In 1958 he sought to go further, launching the Great Leap Forward: a plan to modernise the entire Chinese economy so ambitious that it tipped over into insanity.

Many believe personal ambition played a crucial role. Not satisfied with being "the most powerful emperor who had ever ruled China", Mao strove to snatch leadership of the international communist movement. If the Soviet Union believed it could catch up with the US in 15 years, he vowed, China could overtake Britain in production. His vicious attacks on other leaders who dared to voice concern cowed opposition. But, as Yang notes: "It's a very complicated historical process, why China believed in Maoism and took this path. It wasn't one person's mistake but many people's. It was a process."

The plan proved a disaster from the first. Local officials, either from fanaticism or fear, sent grossly exaggerated reports of their success to the centre, proclaiming harvests three or four times their true size. Higher authorities claimed huge amounts of grain for the cities and even dispatched it overseas. Cadres harassed or killed those who sought to tell the truth and covered up deaths when reports of problems trickled to the centre.

Even so, work by Yang and others has proved that senior leaders in Beijing knew of the famine as early as 1958. "To distribute resources evenly will only ruin the Great Leap Forward," Mao warned colleagues a year later. "When there is not enough to eat, people starve to death. It is better to let half the people die so that others can eat their fill."

Ruthlessness ran through the system. In Xinyang, the Henan city at the centre of the disaster, those who tried to escape the famine were rounded up many died of starvation or from brutality in detention centres. Police hunted down those who wrote anonymous letters raising the alarm. Attempts to control the population tipped over into outright sadism, with cadres torturing victims in increasingly elaborate, ritualistic ways: "The textbooks don't mention this part of history at all," says Yang. "At every festival they have propaganda about the party's achievements and glory and greatness and correctness. People's ideology has been formed over many years. So right now it's very necessary to write this book otherwise nobody has this history."

There are signs that at least some in China want to address it. Last year, the Southern People's Weekly dared to publish an issue with the words "Great Famine" emblazoned starkly across the cover. Inside, an article referred to the calamity as a manmade problem.

Yang is convinced that Tombstone will be published on the mainland, maybe within the decade. He adds with a smile that there are probably 100,000 copies already in circulation, including pirated versions and those smuggled from Hong Kong: "There are a lot of things people overseas know first and Chinese people learn from overseas," he points out.

But in other ways the shutters are coming down. Zhou Xun, whose new book, The Great Famine in China, collects original documents on the disaster for the first time, writes that much of that material has already been made inaccessible by archives.

"Researching it is going to become harder. They are not going to let people look at this stuff any more," warns Beijing author and photographer Du Bin, whose forthcoming book, No One In The World Can Defeat Me, juxtaposes accounts and images of the horror with the cheery propaganda of the time.

In China, history cannot be safely contained within a book it always threatens to spill over: "Although many years have passed, the Communist party is still in charge of the country," says Yang. "They admit it, but they don't want to talk about it it's still a tragedy under the Communist party's governance."

Some hope that the new generation of leaders taking power may be willing to revisit the country's history and acknowledge the mistakes that have been made. Others think it will be easy for them to continue smoothing over the past. "Because the party has been improving and society has improved and everything is better, it's hard for people to believe the brutality of that time," Yang notes.

He recalls meeting a worker from Xinyang who lost two family members to the famine. The man's teenage grandson simply could not believe his recollections, and the pair ended up rowing. Yet the power of the truth to reshape China is manifest in its effect on Yang himself: "I was a very conservative person growing up with a Communist education. My mind was very simple. Now, my mind is liberated. I believe China should move forward to democracy and market economy," he says.

He is, says Lusby, a true patriot his diligent and risky work is not just for his father and himself, but for his country: "The Chinese people were cheated. They need real history."


Keywords

1 Pomeranz , Kenneth , ‘Social history and world history: from daily life to patterns of change’ , Journal of World History , 18 , 1 , 2007 , pp. 69 – 98 CrossRefGoogle Scholar .

3 Frank , Andre Gunder , ReOrient: global economy in the Asian age , Berkeley, CA : University of California Press , 1998 , p. 318 Google Scholar .

4 Taxile Delord, Arnould Frémy, and Edmond Texier, ‘Paris-gagne-petit’, in Les petits Paris (nos. 6–10), p. 41, cited in Perrot , Philippe , Fashioning the bourgeoisie: a history of clothing in the nineteenth century , tr. Richard Bienvenu, Princeton, NJ : Princeton University Press , 1994 Google Scholar , p. 211, n. 47.

5 Reid , Donald , Paris sewers and sewermen: realities and representations , Cambridge, MA : Harvard University Press , 1991 , p. 55Google Scholar .

6 Bernard , Leon , The emerging city: Paris in the age of Louis XIV , Durham, NC : Duke University Press , 1970 , p. 203 Google Scholar .

7 Boudriot , Pierre-Denis , ‘Essai sur l'ordure en milieu urbain à l’époque pré-industrielle’ , Histoire, économie et société , 5 , 1986 , pp. 518 – 519 CrossRefGoogle Scholar .


Researchers Discover First Use of Fertilizer

Europe's first farmers helped spread a revolutionary way of living across the continent. They also spread something else. A new study reveals that these early agriculturalists were fertilizing their crops with manure 8000 years ago, thousands of years earlier than previously thought.

Fertilizer provides plants with all sorts of nutrients that they need to grow strong and healthy, including, most importantly, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. That's why farmers all over the world, in countries rich and poor, put manure on their crops. Nevertheless, it may not be intuitively obvious that spreading animal dung around plants is good for them, and archaeologists had found no evidence for the practice earlier than about 3000 years ago. Farmers in the Near East—what is today Israel, Palestine, Syria, Jordan, and neighboring countries—began cultivating plants and herding animals about 8000 B.C.E., but there are no signs that they used animal dung for anything other than as fuel for fires.

So a team led by Amy Bogaard, an archaeobotanist at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, decided to look for evidence in Europe, where farming began to spread from the Near East about 8500 years ago. Manure has a higher than normal proportion of the rare isotope nitrogen-15, which is heavier than the more common N-14. The researchers took advantage of recent agricultural research showing that plants treated with manure also have more nitrogen-15. They measured the nitrogen-15 content of plant remains from cereals such as wheat and barley and pulses such as peas and lentils from 13 early farming sites. The sites dated to between 7900 and 4400 years ago and ranged from Greece and Bulgaria in the southeast to the United Kingdom and Denmark in the northwest. As the team reports online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the nitrogen-15 levels in 124 crop samples, totaling more than 2500 individual cereal grains or pulse seeds, were high and consistent with the use of manure at most of the 13 sites.

Bogaard and her colleagues conclude that as agriculture spread to Europe, farmers began to invest more and more heavily in the long-term management of their fields. That meant spreading manure, which breaks down slowly and increases the fertility of farmland over many years. This long-term relationship with the land, the team suggests, fostered notions of land ownership and fueled the kind of stratified social hierarchies of wealthier and poorer peoples that other researchers have uncovered on the continent.

So how did early farmers figure out that spreading manure was a key to farming success? Bogaard says that there are several plausible scenarios. Areas of "natural dung accumulation," where animals hung out, would have provided "patches of superfertile ground that early crops would have colonized," she points out, adding that "subsistence farmers are extremely observant of small differences in growth and productivity among their plots." And new evidence from both the Near East and Europe, Bogaard says, suggests that "cropping and herding developed in tandem" and were "entangled from the start."

The team is on firm ground in claiming the earliest use of fertilizer, says Martin Jones, an archaeologist at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. "We used to think that close integration of animal and crop husbandry" was a later development, he says, but the new research indicates "that it goes back to Europe's first farmers."


As a fertilizer, bat dung can be used as top dressing, worked into the soil, or made into tea and used along with regular watering practices. Bat guano can be used fresh or dried. Typically, this fertilizer is applied in smaller quantities than other types of manure.

Bat guano provides a high concentration of nutrients to plants and the surrounding soil. According to the NPK of bat guano, its concentration ingredients are 10-3-1. This NPK fertilizer analysis translates to 10 percent nitrogen (N), 3 percent phosphorus (P), and 1 percent potassium or potash (K). The higher nitrogen levels are responsible for fast, green growth. Phosphorus aids with root and flower development, while potassium provides for the plant’s overall health.

Note: You may also find bat guano with higher phosphorus ratios, such as 3-10-1. Why? Some types are processed this way. Also, it’s believed that the diet of some bat species may have an effect. For example, those feeding strictly on insects produce higher nitrogen content, whereas fruit-eating bats result in a high phosphorus guano.


Lychee

The lychee is native to low elevations of the provinces of Kwangtung and Fukien in southern China, where it flourishes especially along rivers and near the seacoast. It has a long and illustrious history having been praised and pictured in Chinese literature from the earliest known record in 1059 A.D. Cultivation spread over the years through neighboring areas of southeastern Asia and offshore islands. Late in the 17th Century, it was carried to Burma and, 100 years later, to India. It arrived in the West Indies in 1775, was being planted in greenhouses in England and France early in the 19th Century, and Europeans took it to the East Indies. It reached Hawaii in 1873, and Florida in 1883, and was conveyed from Florida to California in 1897. It first fruited at Santa Barbara in 1914. In the 1920's, China's annual crop was 30 million lbs (13.6 million kg). In 1937 (before WW II) the crop of Fukien Province alone was over 35 million lbs (16 million kg). In time, India became second to China in lychee production, total plantings covering about 30,000 acres (12,500 ha). There are also extensive plantings in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma, former Indochina, Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines, Queensland, Madagascar, Brazil and South Africa. Lychees are grown mostly in dooryards from northern Queensland to New South Wales, but commercial orchards have been established in the past 20 years, some consisting of 5,000 trees.

Madagascar began experimental refrigerated shipments of lychees to France in 1960. It is recorded that there were 2 trees about 6 years old in Natal, South Africa, in 1875. Others were introduced from Mauritius in 1876. Layers from these latter trees were distributed by the Durban Botanical Gardens and lychee-growing expanded steadily until in 1947 there were 5,000 bearing trees on one estate and 5,000 newly planted on another property, a total of 40,000 in all.

In Hawaii, there are many dooryard trees but commercial plantings are small. The fruit appears on local markets and small quantities are exported to the mainland but the lychee is too undependable to be classed as a crop of serious economic potential there. Rather, it is regarded as a combination ornamental and fruit tree.

There are only a few scattered trees in the West Indies and Central America apart from some groves in Cuba, Honduras and Guatemala. In California, the lychee will grow and fruit only in protected locations and the climate is generally too dry for it. There are a few very old trees and one small commercial grove. In the early 1960's, interest in this crop was renewed and some new plantings were being made on irrigated land.

At first it was believed that the lychee was not well suited to Florida because of the lack of winter dormancy, exposing successive flushes of tender new growth to the occasional periods of low temperature from December to March. The earliest plantings at Sanford and Oviedo were killed by severe freezes. A step forward came with the importation of young lychee trees from Fukien, China, by the Rev. W.M. Brewster between 1903 and 1906. This cultivar, the centuries-old 'Chen-Tze' or 'Royal Chen Purple', renamed 'Brewster' in Florida, from the northern limit of the lychee-growing area in China, withstands light frost and proved to be very successful in the Lake Placid area–the "Ridge" section of Central Florida.

Layered trees were available from Reasoner's Royal Palm Nurseries in the early 1920's, and the Reasoner's and the U.S. Department of Agriculture made many new introductions for trial. But there were no large plantings until an improved method of propagation was developed by Col. William R. Grove who became acquainted with the lychee during military service in the Orient, retired from the Army, made his home at Laurel (14 miles south of Sarasota, Florida) and was encouraged by knowledgeable Prof. G. Weidman Groff, who had spent 20 years at Canton Christian College. Col. Grove made arrangements to air-layer hundreds of branches on some of the old, flourishing 'Brewster' trees in Sebring and Babson Park and thus acquired the stock to establish his lychee grove. He planted the first tree in 1938, and by 1940 was selling lychee plants and promoting the lychee as a commercial crop. Many small orchards were planted from Merritt's Island to Homestead and the Florida Lychee Growers' Association was founded in 1952, especially to organize cooperative marketing. The spelling "lychee" was officially adopted by the association upon the strong recommendation of Professor Groff.

In 1960, over 6,000 lbs (2,720 kg) were shipped to New York, 4,000 lbs (1,814 kg) to California, nearly 6,000 lbs (2,720 kg) to Canada, and 3,900 lbs (1, 769 kg) were consumed in Florida, though this was far from a record year. The commercial lychee crop in Florida has fluctuated with weather conditions, being affected not only by freezes but also by drought and strong winds. Production was greatly reduced in 1959, to a lesser extent in 1963, fell drastically in 1965, reached a high of 50,770 lbs (22,727 kg) in 1970, and a low of 7,200 lbs (3,273 kg) in 1974. Some growers lost up to 70% of their crop because of severe cold in the winter of 1979-80. Of course, there are many bearing trees in home gardens that are not represented in production figures. The fruit from these trees may be merely for household consumption or may be purchased at the site by Chinese grocers or restaurant operators, or sold at roadside stands.

Though the Florida lychee industry is small, mainly because of weather hazards, irregular bearing and labor of hand-harvesting, it has attracted much attention to the crop and has contributed to the dissemination of planting material to other areas of the Western Hemisphere. Escalating land values will probably limit the expansion of lychee plantings in this rapidly developing state. Another limiting factor is that much land suitable for lychee culture is already devoted to citrus groves.

Professor Groff, in his book, The lychee and the lungan, tells us that the production of superior types of lychee is a matter of great family pride and local rivalry in China, where the fruit is esteemed as no other. In 1492, a list of 40 lychee varieties, mostly named for families, was published in the Annals of Fukien. In the Kwang provinces there were 22 types, 30 were listed in the Annals of Kwangtung, and 70 were tallied as varieties of Ling Nam. The Chinese claim that the lychee is highly variable under different cultural and soil conditions. Professor Groff concluded that one could catalog 40 or 50 varieties as recognized in Kwangtung, but there were only 15 distinct, widely-known and commercial varieties grown in that province, half of them marketed in season in the City of Canton. Some of these are classed as "mountain" types the majority are "water types" (grown in low, well-irrigated land). There is a special distinction between the kinds of lychee that leak juice when the skin is broken and those that retain the juice within the flesh. The latter are called "dry- and -clean" and are highly prized. There is much variation in form (round, egg-shaped or heart-shaped), skin color and texture, the fragrance and flavor and even the color, of the flesh and the amount of "rag" in the seed cavity and, of prime importance, the size and form of the seed.

The following are the 15 cultivars recognized by Professor Groff:

'No Mai Tsze' , or 'No mi ts 'z' (glutinous rice) is the leading variety in China large, red, "dry-and-clean" seeds often small and shriveled. It is one of the best for drying, and is late in season. It does best when grafted onto the 'Mountain' lychee.

'Kwa Iuk' or 'Kua lu' (hanging green) is a famous lychee large, red with a green tip and a typical green line "dry-and-clean" of outstanding flavor and fragrance. It was, in olden times, a special fruit for presentation to high officials and other persons in positions of honor. Professor Groff was given a single fruit in a little red box!

'Kwai mi' or 'Kuei Wei', (cinnamon flavor) which came to be called 'Mauritius' is smaller, heart-shaped, with rough red skin tinged with green on the shoulders and usually having a thin line running around the fruit. The seed is small and the flesh very sweet and fragrant. The branches of the tree curve upward at the tips and the leaflets curl inward from the midrib.

'Hsiang li' , or 'Heung lai' (fragrant lychee) is home by a tree with distinctive erect habit having upward-pointing leaves. The fruit is small, very rough and prickly, deep-red, with the smallest seeds of all, and the flesh is of superior flavor and fragrance. It is late in season. Those grown in Sin Hsing are better than those grown in other locations.

'Hsi Chio tsu', or 'Sai kok tsz' (rhinoceros horn) is borne by a large-growing tree. The fruit is large, rough, broad at the base and narrow at the apex has somewhat tough and fibrous, but fragrant, sweet, flesh. It ripens early.

'Hak ip' , or 'Hei yeh', (black leaf) is borne by a densely-branched tree with large, pointed, slightly curled, dark-green leaflets. The fruit is medium-red, sometimes with green tinges, broad-shouldered, with thin, soft skin and the flesh, occasionally pinkish, is crisp and sweet. This is rated as "one of the best 'water' lychees."

'Fei tsu hsiao', or 'Fi tsz siu' (imperial concubine's laugh, or smile) is large, amber-colored, thin-skinned, with very sweet, very fragrant flesh. Seeds vary from large to very small. It ripens early.

'T' ang po' , or 'T' ong pok' (pond embankment) is from a small-leaved tree. The fruit is small, red, rough, with thin, juicy acid flesh and very little rag. It is a very early variety.

'Sheung shu wai' or'Shang hou huai', (President of a Board's embrace) is borne on a small-leaved tree. The fruit is large, rounded, red, with many dark spots. It has sweet flesh with little scent and the seed size is variable. It is rather late in season.

'Ch'u ma lsu', or 'Chu ma lsz' (China grass fiber) has distinctive, lush foliage. The leaves are large, overlapping, with long petioles. The fruits are large with prominent shoulders and rough skin, deep red inside. While very fragrant, the flesh is of inferior flavor and clings to the seed which varies from large to small.

'Ta tsao' , or 'Tai tso' (large crop) is widely grown around Canton somewhat egg-shaped skin rough, bright-red with many small, dense dots flesh firm, crisp, sweet, faintly streaked with yellow near the large seed. The juice leaks when the skin is broken. The fruit ripens early.

'Huai chih', or 'Wai chi' (the Wai River lychee) has medium-sized, blunt leaves. The fruit is round with medium-smooth skin, a rich red outside, pink inside and leaking juice. This is not a high class variety but the most commonly grown, high yielding, and late in season.

'San yueh hung', or 'Sam ut hung' (third month red), also called 'Ma yuen', 'Ma un', 'Tsao kuo', 'Tso kwo', 'Tsao li', or 'Tsoli' (early lychee) is grown along dykes. The branches are brittle and break readily the leaves are long, pointed, and thick. The fruit is very large, with red, thick, tough skin and thick, medium-sweet flesh with much rag. The seeds are long but aborted. This variety is popular mainly because it comes into season very early.

'Pai la li chih', or 'Pak lap lai chi' (white wax lychee), also called 'Po le tzu', or 'Pak lik tsz (white fragrant plant), is large, pink, rough, with pinkish, fibrous, not very sweet flesh and large seeds. It ripens very late, after 'Huai chih'.

'Shan chi', or 'Shan chih' (mountain lychee), also called 'Suan chih', or 'Sun chi' (sour lychee) grows wild in the hills and is often planted as a rootstock for better varieties. The tree is of erect habit with erect twigs and large, pointed, short-petioled leaves. The fruit is bright-red, elongated, very rough, with thin flesh, acid flavor and large seed.

'T'im ngam', or 'T'ien yeh' (sweet cliff) is a common variety of lychee which Professor Groff reported to be quite widely grown in Kwantung, but not really on a commercial basis.

In his book, The Litchi, Dr. Lal Behari Singh wrote that Bihar is the center of lychee culture in India, producing 33 selected varieties classified into 15 groups. His extremely detailed descriptions of the 10 cultivars recommended for large-scale cultivation I have abbreviated (with a few bracketed additions from other sources):

'Early Seedless' , or 'Early Bedana'. Fruit 1 1/3 in (3.4 cm) long, heart-shaped to oval rough, red, with green interspaces skin firm and leathery flesh [ivory] to white, soft, sweet seed shrunken, like a dog's tooth. Of good quality. The tree bears a moderate crop, early in season.

'Rose-scented' . Fruit 1 1/4 in (3.2 cm) long rounded-heart-shaped slightly rough, purplish-rose, slightly firm skin flesh gray-white, soft, very sweet. Seed round-ovate, fully developed. Of good quality. [Tree bears a moderate crop] in midseason.

'Early Large Red' . Fruit slightly more than 1 1/3 in (3.4 cm) long, usually obliquely heart-shaped crimson [to carmine], with green interspaces very rough skin very firm and leathery, adhering slightly to the flesh. Flesh grayish-white, firm, sweet and flavorful. Of very good quality. [Tree is a moderate bearer], early in season.

'Dehra Dun', [or 'Dehra Dhun']. Fruit less than 1 1/2 in (4 cm) long obliquely heart-shaped to conical a blend of red and orange-red skin rough, leathery flesh gray-white, soft, of good, sweet flavor. Seed often shrunken, occasionally very small. Of good quality midseason. [This is grown extensively in Uttar Pradesh and is the most satisfactory lychee in Pakistan.]

'Late Long Red', or 'Muzaffarpur'. Fruit less than 1 1/2 in (4 cm) long usually oblong-conical dark-red with greenish interspaces skin rough, firm and leathery, slightly adhering to the flesh flesh grayish-white, soft, of good, sweet flavor. Seed cylindrical, fully developed. Of good quality. [Tree is a heavy bearer], late in season.

'Pyazi'. Fruit 1 1/3 in (3.4 cm) long oblong-conical to heart-shaped a blend of orange and orange-red, with yellowish-red, not very prominent, tubercles. Skin leathery, adhering flesh gray-white, firm, slightly sweet, with flavor reminiscent of "boiled onion". Seed cylindrical, fully developed. Of poor quality. Early in season.

'Extra Early Green'. Fruit 1 1/4 in (3.2 cm) long mostly heart-shaped, rarely rounded or oblong yellowish-red with green interspaces skin slightly rough, leathery, slightly adhering flesh creamy-white, [firm, of good, slightly acid flavor] seed oblong, cylindrical or flat. Of indifferent quality. Very early in season.

'Kalkattia', ['Calcuttia', or 'Calcutta']. Fruit 1 1/2 in (4 cm) long oblong or lopsided rose-red with darker tubercles skin very rough, leathery, slightly adhering flesh grayish ivory, firm, of very sweet, good flavor. Seed oblong or concave. Of very good quality. [A heavy bearer withstands hot winds]. Very late in season.

'Gulabi'. Fruit 1 1/3 in (3.4 cm) long heart-shaped, oval or oblong pink-red to carmine with orange-red tubercles skin very rough, leathery, non-adherent flesh gray-white, firm, of good subacid flavor seed oblong-cylindrical, fully developed. Of very good quality. Late in season.

'Late Seedless' , or 'Late Bedana'. Fruit less than 1 3/8 in (3.65 cm) long mainly conical, rarely ovate orange-red to carmine with blackish-brown tubercles skin rough, firm, non-adherent flesh creamy-white, soft very sweet, of very good flavor except for slight bitterness near the seed. Seed slightly spindle-shaped, or like a dog's tooth underdeveloped. Of very good quality. [Tree bears heavily. Withstands hot winds.] Late in season.

There are numerous lychee orchards in the submontane region of the Punjab. The leading variety is:

'Panjore common' . Fruit is large, heart-shaped, deep-orange to pink skin is rough, very thin, apt to split. Tree bears heavily and has the longest fruiting season-for an entire month beginning near the end of May. Six other varieties commonly grown there are: 'Rose-scented', 'Bhadwari', 'Seedless No. 1', 'Seedless No. 2', 'Dehra Dun', and 'Kalkattia'.

In South Africa, only one variety is produced commercially. It is the 'Kwai Mi' but it is locally called 'Mauritius' because nearly all of the trees are descendants of those brought in from that island. In South Africa, the fruit is of medium size, nearly round but slightly oval, reddish-brown. Flesh is firm, of good quality and usually contains a medium-sized seed, but certain fruits with broad, flat shoulders and shortened form tend to have "chicken-tongue" seeds.

There have been many other introductions into South Africa from China and India but most failed to survive. In 1928, 16 varieties from India were planted at Lowe's Orchards, Southport, Natal, but the records were lost and they remained unnamed. A Litchi Variety Orchard of 26 cultivars from India, China, Taiwan and elsewhere was established at the Subtropical Horticulture Research Station in Nelspruit. Tentative classifications grouped these into 3 distinct types–'Kwai Mi' ['Mauritius'], 'Hak Ip' (of high quality and small seed but a shy bearer in the Low-veld), and the 'Madras', a heavy bearer of choice fruits, bright-red, very rough, and with large seeds, but very sweet, luscious flesh.

The first lychee introduced into Hawaii was the 'Kwai Mi', as was the second introduction several years later. The high quality of this variety (sometimes locally called 'Charlie Long') caused the lychee to become extremely popular and widely planted. The Hawaiian Agricultural Experiment Station imported 3 'Brewster' trees in 1907, and various efforts were made to bring other types from China but not all survived. A total of 16 varieties became well established in Hawaii, including 'Hak Ip' which has become second to 'Kwai Mi' in importance.

In 1942, the Agricultural Experiment Station set out a collection of 500 seedlings of 'Kwai Mi', 'Hak Ip' and 'Brewster' with a view to selecting the trees showing the best performance. One tree of outstanding character (a seedling of 'Hak Ip') was first designated H.A.E.S. Selection 1-18-3 and was given the name 'Groff' in 1953. It is a consistent bearer, late in season. The fruit is of medium size, dark rose-red with green or yellowish tinges on the apex of each tubercle. The flesh is white and firm there is no leaking juice the flavor is excellent, sweet and subacid most of the fruits have abortive, "chicken-tongue" seeds and, accordingly have 20% more flesh than if the seeds were fully developed.

'No Mai Tsze' has been growing in Hawaii for over 40 years but has produced very few fruits. 'Pat Po Heung' (eight precious fragrances), erroneously called 'Pat Po Hung' (eight precious red), somewhat resembles 'No Mai Tsze' but is smaller the skin is purplish-red, thin and pliable the juice leaks when the skin is broken the flesh is soft, juicy, sweet even when slightly unripe the seed varies from medium to large. The tree is slow-growing and of weak, spreading habit it bears well in Hawaii. Nevertheless, it is not commonly planted.

'Kaimana' , or 'Poamoho', an open-pollinated seedling of 'Hak Ip', developed by Dr. R.A. Hamilton at the Poamoho Experiment Station of the University of Hawaii, was released in 1982. The fruit resembled 'Kwai Mi' but is twice as large, deep-red, of high quality, and the tree is a regular bearer.

'Brewster' is large, conical or wedge-shaped, red, with soft flesh, more acid than that of 'Kwai mi', and the seeds are very often fully formed and large. The leaflets are flat with slightly recurved margins and taper to a sharp point.

There were many other introductions of seeds, seedlings, cuttings or air-layers into the United States, from 1902 to 1924, mostly from China also from India and Hawaii, and a few from Java, Cuba, and Trinidad and these were distributed to experimenters in Florida and California, and some to botanical gardens in other states, and to Cuba, Puerto Rico, Panama, Honduras, Costa Rica and Brazil. Many were killed by cold weather in California and Florida.

In 1908, the United States Department of Agriculture brought in 27 plants of 'Kwai mi'. At the same time, 20 plants of 'Hak Ip' were imported and these were sent to George B. Cellon in Miami in 1918. A tree of the 'Bedana' was introduced from India in 1913. In 1920, Professor Groff obtained seedlings of 'Shan Chi' (mountain lychee) from Kwantung Province, together with air-layers of 'Sheung shu wai', 'No mai ts 'z', and 'T' im ngam' (sweet cliff). The latter was found to bear more regularly than 'Brewster' but exhibited nutritional deficiencies in limestone soil.

Most of the various plants and rooted cuttings from them were distributed for trial the rest were kept in U.S. Department of Agriculture greenhouses in Maryland.

'Bengal' –In 1929, the U.S. Department of Agriculture received a small lychee plant, supposedly a seedling of 'Rose-scented', from Calcutta. It was planted at the Plant Introduction Station in Miami and began bearing in 1940. The fruits resembled 'Brewster' but were more elongated, were home in large clusters, and the flesh was firm, not leaking juice when peeled. All the fruits had fully developed seeds but smaller in proportion to flesh than those of 'Brewster'. The habit of the tree is more spreading than that of 'Brewster' it has larger, more leathery, darker green leave's, and the bark is smoother and paler. The original tree and its air-layered progeny have shown no chlorosis on limestone in contrast to 'Brewster' trees growing nearby.

'Peerless' , believed to be a seedling of 'Brewster', originated at the Royal Palm Nursery at Oneco was transplanted to the T.R. Palmer Estate in Belleair where C.E. Ware noticed from 1936 to 1938 that it bore fruit of larger size, brighter color and higher percentage of abortive seed than 'Brewster'. In 1938, Ware air-layered and removed 200 branches, purchased the tree and moved it to his property in Clearwater. It resumed fruiting in 1940 and annual crops recorded to 1956 showed good productivity-averaging 383.4 lbs (174 kg) per year, and the rate of abortive seeds ranged from 62% to 85%. The 200 air-layers were planted out by Ware in 1942 and began bearing in 1946. Most of the fruits had fully developed seeds but the rate of abortive seeds increased year by year and in 1950 was 61% to 70%. The cultivar was named with the approval of the Florida Lychee Growers Association. Two seedling selections by Col. Grove, 'Yellow Red' and 'Late Globe', Prof. Groff believed to be natural hybrids of 'Brewster' ´ 'Mountain'.

In northern Queensland, 'Kwai Mi' is the earliest cultivar grown, and about 10% of the fruits have "chicken tongue" seeds. 'Brewster' bears in mid-season and is important though the seed is nearly always fully formed and large. 'Hak Ip' is also midseason and large-seeded there. 'Bedana' is grown only in home gardens and the fruits have large seeds unlike the usual "chicken tongue" seeds of the fruits of this cultivar borne in India i

'Wai Chi' is late in season (December), has small, round fruits, basically yellow overlaid with red the seed is small and oval. The tree is very compact with upright branches, and prefers a cooler climate than that of coastal north Queensland where it does not fruit heavily. The leaflets are concave like those of 'Kwai Mi'.

A very similar, perhaps identical, cultivar called 'Hong Kong' is grown in South Queensland. 'No Mai' bears poorly in Queensland and seems better adapted to cooler areas.

There are 3 types of flowers appearing in irregular sequence or, at times, simultaneously, in the lychee inflorescence: a) male b) hermaphrodite, fruiting as female (about 30% of the total) c) hermaphrodite fruiting as male. The latter tend to possess the most viable pollen. Many of the flowers have defective pollen and this fact probably is the main cause of the abortive seeds and also the common problem of shedding of young fruits. The flowers require transfer of pollen by insects.

In India, L.B. Singh recorded 11 species of bees, flies, wasps and other insects as visiting lychee flowers for nectar. But honeybees, mostly Apis cerana indica, A. dorsata and A. florea, constitute 78% of the lychee-pollinating insects and they work the flowers for pollen and nectar from sunrise to sundown. A. cerana is the only hive bee and is essential in commercial orchards for maximum fruit production.

A 6-week survey in Florida revealed 27 species of lychee-flower visitors, representing 6 different insect Orders. Most abundant, morning and afternoon, was the secondary screw-worm fly (Callitroga macellaria), an undesirable pest. Next was the imported honeybee (Apis mellifera) seeking nectar daily but only during the morning and apparently not interested in the pollen. No wild bees were seen on the lychee flowers, though wild bees were found in large numbers collecting pollen in an adjacent fruit-tree planting a few weeks later. Third in order, but not abundant, was the soldier beetle (Chauliognathus marginatus). The rest of the insect visitors were present only in insignificant number. Maintenance of bee hives in Florida lychee groves is necessary to enhance fruit set and development. The fruits mature 2 months after flowering.

In India and Hawaii, there has been some interest in possible cross-breeding of the lychee and pollen storage tests have been conducted. Lychee pollen has remained viable at room temperature for 10 to 30 days in petri dishes for 3 to 5 months in desiccators 15 months at 32° F (0° C) and 25% relative humidity in desiccators and 31 months under deep-freeze, -9.4° F (-23° C). There is considerable variation in the germination rates of pollen from different cultivars. In India, 'Rose Scented' has shown mean viability of 61.99% compared with 42.52% in 'Khattl'.

Groff provided a clear view of the climatic requirements of the lychee. He said that it thrives best in regions "not subject to heavy frost but cool and dry enough in the winter months to provide a period of rest." In China and India, it is grown between 15° and 30° N. "The Canton delta . is crossed by the Tropic of Cancer and is a subtropical area of considerable range in climate. Great fluctuations of temperature are common throughout the fall and winter months. In the winter sudden rises of temperature will at times cause the lychee . to flush forth . new growth. This new growth is seldom subject to a freeze about Canton. On the higher elevations of the mountain regions which are subject to frost the lychee is seldom grown . . . The more hardy mountainous types of the lychee are very sour and those grown near salt water are said to be likewise. The lychee thrives best on the lower plains where the summer months are hot and wet and the winter months are dry and cool."

Heavy frosts will kill young trees but mature trees can withstand light frosts. Cold tolerance of the lychee is intermediate between that of the sweet orange on one hand and mango and avocado on the other. Location, land slope, and proximity to bodies of water can make a great difference in degree of damage by freezing weather. In the severe low temperature crisis during the winter of 1957-58, the effects ranged from minimal to total throughout central and southern Florida. A grove of 12-to 14-year-old trees south of Sanford was killed back nearly to the ground on Merritt Island trees of the same age were virtually undamaged, while a commercial mango planting was totally destroyed. L.B. Singh resists the common belief that the lychee needs winter cold spells that provide periods of temperature between 30° and 40° F (-1.11° and 4.44° C) because it does well in Mauritius where the temperature is never below 40° F (-1.11° C). However, lychee trees in Panama, Jamaica, and other tropical areas set fruit only occasionally or not at all.

Heavy rain or fog during the flowering period is detrimental, as are hot, dry, strong winds which cause shedding of flowers, also splitting of the fruit skin. Splitting occurs, too, during spells of alternating rain and hot, dry periods, especially on the sunny side of the tree. Spraying with Ethephon at 10 ppm reduced splitting in 'Early Large Red' in experiments in Nepal.

The lychee grows well on a wide range of soils. In China it is cultivated in sandy or clayey loam, "river mud", moist sandy clay, and even heavy clay. The pH should be between 6 and 7. If the soil is deficient in lime, this must be added. However, in an early experiment in a greenhouse in Washington, D.C., seedlings planted in acid soil showed superior growth and the roots had many nodules filled with mycorrhizal fungi. This caused some to speculate that inoculation might be desirable. Later, in Florida, profuse nodulation was observed on roots of lychee seedlings that had not been inoculated but merely grown in pots of sphagnum moss and given a well-balanced nutrient solution.

The lychee attains maximum growth and productivity on deep alluvial loam but flourishes in extreme southern Florida on oolitic limestone providing it is put in an adequate hole and irrigated in dry seasons.

The Chinese often plant the lychee on the banks of ponds and streams. In low, wet land, they dig ditches 10 to 15 ft (3-4.5 m) wide and 30 to 40 ft (9-12 m) apart, using the excavated soil to form raised beds on which they plant lychee trees, so that they have perfect drainage but the soil is always moist. Though the lychee has a high water requirement, it cannot stand water-logging. The water table should be at least 4 to 6 ft (1.2-1.8 m) below the surface and the underground water should be moving inasmuch as stagnant water induces root rot. The lychee can stand occasionally brief flooding better than citrus. It will not thrive under saline conditions.

Lychees do not reproduce faithfully from seed, and the choicest have abortive, not viable, seed. Furthermore, lychee seeds remain viable only 4 to 5 days, and seedling trees will not bear until they are 5 to 12, or even 25, years old. For these reasons, seeds are planted mostly for selection and breeding purposes or for rootstock.

Attempts to grow the lychee from cuttings have been generally discouraging, though 80% success has been claimed with spring cuttings in full sun, under constant mist and given weekly liquid nutrients. Ground-layering has been practiced to some extent. In China, air-layering (marcotting, or gootee) is the most popular means of propagation and has been practiced for ages. By their method, a branch of a chosen tree is girdled, allowed to callus for 1 to 2 days and then is enclosed in a ball of sticky mud mixed with chopped straw or dry leaves and wrapped with burlap. With frequent watering, roots develop in the mud and, in about 100 days, the branch is cut off, the ball of earth is increased to about 12 in (30 cm) in width, and the air-layer is kept in a sheltered nursery for a little over a year, then gradually exposed to full sun before it is set out in the orchard. Some air-layers are planted in large clay pots and grown as ornamentals.

The Chinese method of air-layering has many variations. In fact, 92 modifications have been recorded and experimented with in Hawaii. Inarching is also an ancient custom, selected cultivars being joined to 'Mountain' lychee rootstock.

In order to make air-layering less labor-intensive, to eliminate the watering, and also to produce portable, shippable layers, Colonel Grove, after much experimentation, developed the technique of packing the girdle with wet sphagnum moss and soil, wrapping it in moisture-proof clear plastic that permits exchange of air and gasses, and tightly securing it above and below. In about 6 weeks, sufficient roots are formed to permit detaching of the layer, removal of the plastic wrap, and planting in soil in nursery containers. It is possible to air-layer branches up to 4 in (10 cm) thick, and to take 200 to 300 layers from a large tree.

Studies in Mexico have led to the conclusion that, for maximum root formation, branches to be air-layered should not be less than 5/8 in (15 mm) in diameter, and, to avoid undue defoliation of the parent tree, should not exceed 3/4 in (20 mm). The branches, of any age, around the periphery of the canopy and exposed to the sun, make better air-layers with greater root development than branches taken from shaded positions on the tree. The application of growth regulators, at various rates, has shown no significant effect on root development in the Mexican experiments. In India, certain of the various auxins tried stimulated root formation, forced early maturity of the layers, but contributed to high mortality. South African horticulturists believe that tying the branch up so that it is nearly vertical induces vigorous rooting.

The new trees, with about half of the top trimmed off and supported by stakes, are kept in a shadehouse for 6 weeks before setting out. Improvements in Colonel Grove's system later included the use of constant mist in the shadehouse. Also, it was found that birds pecked at the young roots showing through the transparent wrapping, made holes in the plastic and caused dehydration. It became necessary to shield the air-layers with a cylinder of newspaper or aluminum foil. As time went on, some people switched to foil in place of plastic for wrapping the air-layers.

The air-layered trees will fruit in 2 to 5 years after planting, Professor Groff said that a lychee tree is not in its prime until it is 20 to 40 years old will continue bearing a good crop for 100 years or longer. One disadvantage of air-layering is that the resultant trees have weak root systems. In China, a crude method of cleft-grafting has long been employed for special purposes, but, generally speaking, the lychee has been considered very difficult to graft. Bark, tongue, cleft, and side-veneer grafting, also chip-and shield-budding, have been tried by various experimenters in Florida, Hawaii, South Africa and elsewhere with varing degrees of success. The lychee is peculiar in that the entire cambium is active only during the earliest phases of secondary growth. The use of very young rootstocks, only 1/4 in (6 mm) in diameter and wrapping the union with strips of vinyl plastic film, have given good results. A 70% success rate has been achieved in splice-grafting in South Africa. Hardened-off, not terminal, wood of young branches 1/4 in (6 mm) thick is first ringed and the bark-ring removed. After a delay of 21 days, the branch is cut off at the ring, defoliated but leaving the base of each petiole, then a slanting cut is made in the rootstock 1 ft (30 cm) above the soil, at the point where it matches the thickness of the graftwood (scion), and retaining as many leaves as possible. The cut is trimmed to a perfectly smooth surface 1 in (2.5 cm) long the scion is then trimmed to 4 in (10 cm) long, making a slanting cut to match that on the rootstock. The scion should have 2 slightly swollen buds. After joining the scion and the rootstock, the union is wrapped with plastic grafting tape and the scion is completely covered with grafting strips to prevent dehydration. In 6 weeks the buds begin to swell, and the plastic is slit just above the bud to permit sprouting. When the new growth has hardened off, all the grafting tape is removed. The grafting is performed in a moist, warm atmosphere. The grafted plants are maintained in containers for 2 years or more before planting out, and they develop strong taproots.

In India, a more recent development is propagation by stooling, which has been found "simpler, quicker and more economical" there than air-layering. First, air-layers from superior trees are planted 4 ft (1.2 m) apart in "stool beds" where enriched holes have been prepared and left open for 2 weeks. Fertilizer is applied when planting (at the beginning of September) and the air-layers are well established by mid-October and putting out new flushes of growth in November. Fertilizer is applied again in February-March and June-July. Shallow cultivation is performed to keep the plot weed-free. At the end of 2 1/2 years, in mid-February, the plants are cut back to 10 in (25 cm) from the ground. New shoots from the trunk are allowed to grow for 4 months. In mid-June, a ring of bark is removed from all shoots except one on each plant and lanolin paste containing IBA (2,500 ppm) is applied to the upper portion of the ringed area. Ten days later, earth is heaped up to cover 4 to 6 in (10-15 cm) of the stem above the ring. This causes the shoots to root profusely in 2 months. The rooted shoots are separated from the plant and are immediately planted in nursery beds or pots. Those which do not wilt in 3 weeks are judged suitable for setting out in the field. The earth around the parent plants is leveled and the process of fertilization, cultivation, ringing and earthing-up and harvesting of stools is repeated over and over for years until the parent plants have lost their vitality. It is reported that the transplanted shoots have a survival rate of 81-82% as compared with 40% to 50% in air-layers.

Spacing: For a permanent orchard, the trees are best spaced 40 ft (12 m) apart each way. In India, a 30 ft spacing is considered adequate, probably because the drier climate limits the overall growth. Portions of the tree shaded by other trees will not bear fruit. For maximum productivity, there must be full exposure to light on all sides.

In the Cook Islands, the trees are planted on a 40 x 20 ft (12 x 6 m) spacing㫐 trees per acre (134 per ha)–but in the 15th year, the plantation is thinned to 40 x 40 ft (12 x l2 m).

Wind protection: Young trees benefit greatly by wind protection. This can be provided by placing stakes around each small tree and stretching cloth around them as a windscreen. In very windy locations, the entire plantation may be protected by trees planted as windbreaks but these should not be so close as to shade the lychees. The lychee tree is structurally highly wind-resistant, having withstood typhoons, but shelter may be needed to safeguard the crop. During dry, hot months, lychee trees of any age will benefit from overhead sprinkling they are seriously retarded by water stress.

Fertilization: Newly planted trees must be watered but not fertilized beyond the enrichment of the hole well in advance of planting. In China, lychee trees are fertilized only twice a year and only organic material is used, principally night soil, sometimes with the addition of soybean or peanut residue after oil extraction, or mud from canals and fish ponds. There is no great emphasis on fertilization in India. It has been established that a harvest of 1,000 lbs (454.5 kg) removes approximately 3 lbs (1,361 g) K 2 O, 1 lb (454 g) P 2 O 5 , 1 lb (454 g) N, 3/4 lb (340 g) CaO, and 1/2 lb (228 g) MgO from the soil. It is judged, therefore, that applications of potash, phosphate, lime and magnesium should be made to restore these elements.

Fertilizer experiments on fine sand in central Florida have shown that medium rates of N (either sulfate of ammonia or ammonium nitrate), P 2 O 5 , K 2 O, and MgO, together with one application of dolomite limestone at 2 tons/acre (4.8 tons/ha) are beneficial in counteracting chlorosis and promoting growth, flowering and fruit-set and reducing early fruit shedding. Excessive use of nitrogen suppresses growth and interferes with the uptake of other nutrients. If vegetative dormancy is to be encouraged in bearing trees, fertilizer should be withheld in fall and early winter.

In limestone soil, it may be necessary to spread chelated iron 2 or 3 times a year to avoid chlorosis. Zinc deficiency is evidenced by bronzing of the leaves. It is corrected by a foliar spray of 8 lbs (3.5 kg) zinc sulphate and 4 lbs (1.8 kg) hydrated lime in 48 qts (45 liters) of water. Because of the very shallow root system of the lychee, a surface mulch is very beneficial in hot weather.

Pruning: Ordinarily, the tree is not pruned after the judicious shaping of the young plant, because the clipping off of a branch tip with each cluster of fruits is sufficient to promote new growth for the next crop. Severe pruning of old trees may be done to increase fruit size and yield for at least a few years.

Girdling: The Indian farmer may girdle the branches or trunk of his lychee trees in September to enhance flowering and fruiting. Tests on 'Brewster' in Hawaii confirmed the much higher yield obtained from branches girdled in September. Girdling of trees that begin to flush in October and November is ineffective. Similar trials in Florida showed increased yield of trees that had poor crops the previous year, but there was no significant increase in trees that had been heavy bearers. Furthermore, many branches were weakened or killed by girdling. Repeated girdling as a regular practice would probably seriously interfere with overall growth and productivity.

Indian horticulturists warn that girdling in alternate years, or girdling just half of the tree, may be preferable to annual girdling and that, in any case, heavy fertilization and irrigation should precede girdling. Fall spraying of growth inhibitors has not been found to increase yields.

For home use or for local markets, lychees are harvested when fully colored for shipment, when only partly colored. The final swelling of the fruit causes the protuberances on the skin to be less crowded and to slightly flatten out, thus an experienced picker will recognize the stage of full maturity. The fruits are rarely picked singly except for immediate eating out-of-hand, because the stem does not normally detach without breaking the skin and that causes the fruit to spoil quickly. The clusters are usually clipped with a portion of stem and a few leaves attached to prolong freshness. Individual fruits are later clipped from the cluster leaving a stub of stem attached. Harvesting may need to be done every 3 to 4 days over a period of 3-4 weeks. It is never done right after rain, as the wet fruit is very perishable. The lychee tree is not very suitable for the use of ladders. High clusters are usually harvested by metal or bamboo pruning poles. A worker can harvest 55 lbs (25 kg) of fruits per hour.

The yield varies with the cultivar, age, weather, presence of pollinators, and cultural practices. In India, a 5-year-old tree may produce 500 fruits, a 20-year-old tree 4,000 to 5,000 fruits𤪐 to 330 lbs (72.5-149.6 kg). Exceptional trees have borne 1,000 lbs (455 kg) of fruit per year. One tree in Florida has borne 1,200 lbs (544 kg). In China, there are reports of 1,500 lb crops (680 kg). In South Africa, trees 25 years old have averaged 600 lbs (272 kg) each in good years and an average yield per acre is approximately 10,000 lbs annually (roughly equivalent to 10,000 kg per hectare).

Freshly picked lychees keep their color and quality only 3 to 5 days at room temperature. If pre-treated with 0.5% copper sulphate solution and kept in perforated polyethylene bags, they will remain fresh somewhat longer.

Fresh fruits, picked individually by snapping the stems and later de-stemmed during grading, and packed in shallow, ventilated cartons with shredded-paper cushioning, have been successfully shipped by air from Florida to markets throughout the United States and also to Canada. In South Africa, freshly picked lychees have been placed on trays in ventilated sheds, dusted with sulphur and left overnight, and then allowed to "wilt" in lugs for 24 to 48 hours to permit any infested or injured fruits to become conspicuous before grading and packing. It is said that fruits so treated retain their fresh color and are unaffected by fungi or pests for several weeks.

In China and India, lychees are packed in baskets or crates lined with leaves or other cushioning. The clusters or loose fruits are best packed in trays with protective sheets between the layers and no more than 5 single layers or 3 double layers are joined together. The pack should not be too tight. Containers for stacked trays or fruits not so arranged, must be fairly shallow to avoid too much weight and crushing. Spoilage may be retarded by moistening the fruits with a salt solution.

In the Cook Islands, the fruits are removed from the clusters, dipped in Benlate to control fungal growth, dried on racks, then packed in cartons for shipment to New Zealand. South African shippers immerse the fruits for 10 minutes in a suspension of 0.375 dicloran 50% wp plus 0.625 g benomyl 50% wp per liter of water warmed to 125.6º F (52º C). Tests at CSIRO, Div. of Food Research, New South Wales, Australia, in 1982, showed good color retention, retardation of weight loss and fungal spoilage in lychees dipped in hot benomyl 0.05% at 125.6º F (52º C) for two minutes and packed in trays with PVC "skrink" film covering. The chemical treatment had not yet been approved by health authorities.

Lychee clusters shipped to France by air from Madagascar have arrived in fresh condition when packed 13 lbs (6 kg) to the carton and cushioned with leaves of the traveler's tree (Ravenala madagascariensis Sonn.).

Boat shipment requires hydrocooling at the plantation at 32º-35.6º F (0º-2º C), packing in sealed polyethylene bags, storing and conveying to the port at -4º to -13º F (-20º--25º C) and shipping at 32º to 35.6º F (0º-2º C).

In Florida, fresh lychees in sealed, heavy-gauge polyethylene bags keep their color for 7 days in storage or transit at 35º to 50º F (1.67º-10º C). Each bag should contain no more than 15 lbs (6.8 kg) of fruit.

Lychees placed in polyethylene bags with moss, leaves, paper shavings or cotton packing have retained fresh color and quality for 2 weeks in storage at 45º F (7.22º C) for a month at 40º F (4.44º C). At 32º to 35º F(0º-1.67º C) and 85% to 90% relative humidity, untreated lychees, can be stored for 10 weeks the skin will turn brown but the flesh will be virtually in fresh condition but sweeter.

Frozen, peeled or unpeeled, lychees in moisture-vapor-proof containers keep for 2 years.

Plate XXXIII: LYCHEE, Litchi chinensis: dried
Drying of Lychees

Lychees dehydrate naturally. The skin loses its original color, becomes cinnamon-brown, and turns brittle. The flesh turns dark-brown to nearly black as it shrivels and becomes very much like a raisin. The skin of 'Kwai Mi' becomes very tough when dried that of 'Madras' less so. The fruits will dry perfectly if clusters are merely hung in a closed, air-conditioned room.

In China, lychees are preferably dried in the sun on hanging wire trays and brought inside at night and during showers. Some are dried by means of brick stoves during humid weather.

When exports of dried fruits from China to the United States were suspended, India welcomed the opportunity to supply the market. Experimental drying involved preliminary disinfection by immersing the fruits in 0.5% copper sulphate solution for 2 minutes. Sun-drying on coir-mesh trays took 15 days and the results were good except that thin-skinned fruits tended to crack. It was found that shade-drying for 2 days before full exposure to the sun prevented cracking.

Electric-oven drying of single layers arranged in tiers, at 122º to 140º F (50º-65º C), requires only 4 days. Hot-air-blast at 160º F(70º C) dries seedless fruits in 48 hours. Fire-oven and vacuum-oven drying were found unsatisfactory. Florida researchers have demonstrated the feasibility of drying untreated lychees at 120º F (48.8º C) with free-stream air flow rates above 35 CMF/f 2 . Drying at higher temperatures gave the fruits a bitter flavor.

The best quality and light color of flesh instead of dark-brown is achieved by first blanching in boiling water for 5 minutes, immersing in a solution of 2% potassium metabisulphite for 48 hours, and dipping in citric acid prior to drying.

Dried fruits can be stored in tins at room temperature for about a year with no change in texture or flavor.

In most areas where lychees are grown, the most serious foliage pest is the erinose, or leaf-curl, mite, Aceria litchii, which attacks the new growth causing hairy, blister-like galls on the upperside of the leaves, thickening, wrinkling and distorting them, and brown, felt-like wool on the underside. The mite apparently came to Florida on plants from Hawaii in 1953 but has been effectively eradicated. A leaf-webber, Dudua aprobola, attacks the new growth of all lychee trees in the Punjab.

The most destructive enemy of the lychee in China is a stinkbug (Tessaratoma papillosa) with bright-red markings. It sucks the sap from young twigs and they often die at least there is a high rate of fruit-shedding. This pest is combatted by shaking the trees in winter, collecting the bugs and dropping them into kerosene. Without such efforts, it works havoc. A stinkbug (Banasa lenticularis) has been found on lychee foliage in Florida. The leaf-eating false-unicorn caterpillar (Schizura ipomeae), which is parasitized by a tachinid fly (Thorocera floridensis) feeds on the leaves. The foliage is sometimes infested with red spider mites (Paratetranychus hawaiiensis). The citrus aphid (Toxoptera aurantii) preys on flush foliage. Two leaf rollers, Argyroploce leucaspis, and A. aprobola, are active on lychee trees in India. Thrips (Dolicothrips idicus) attack the foliage and Megalurothrips (Taeniothrips) distalis and Lymantria mathura damage the flowers.

A twig-pruner, Hypermallus villosus, has damaged lychee trees in Florida and a twig borer, Proteoteras implicata, has killed twigs of new growth on Florida lychees. The larvae of a native leaf beetle, Exema nodulosa, has been found puncturing and girdling lychee branchlets 1/8 to 1/4 in (3-6 mm) thick. Ambrosia beetles bore into the stems of young trees and fungi enter through their holes. A shoot-borer, Chlumetia transversa, is found on lychee trees all over India. Two bark-boring caterpillars, Indarbela quadrinotata and I. tetraonis, bore rings around the trunk underneath the bark of older trees. The larvae of a small moth, Acrocerops cramerella, eat developing seeds and the pith of young twigs. A small parasitic wasp helps to control this predator, as does the sanitary practice of burning the fallen lychee leaves.

The aphid (Aphis spiraecola) occurs on young plants in shaded nurseries, as does the armored scale, or lychee bark scale, Pseudaulacaspis major, and white peach scale, P. pentagona. The Florida red scale, Chrysomphalus aonidum, has been seen on lychee trees, also the banana-shaped scale, Coccus acutissimus, and green-shield scale, Pulvinaria psidii. The latter is the second most serious pest in Florida. Others are the six-spotted mite, Eotetranychus sexmaculatus, the leaf-footed bug, Leptoglossus phyllopus, and less troublesome creatures such as the several species of Scarabaeidae (related to June bugs) which attack leaves and flower buds.

In South Africa, the parasitic nematode Hemicriconemoides mangiferae and Xiphinema brevicolle cause die-back, decline and ultimately death of lychee trees, sometimes devastating orchards. The root-knot nematode, Meloidogyne javanica, also attacks the lychee in South Africa but is less prevalent.

In Florida, the southern green stinkbug, Nezara viridula, and the larvae of the cotton square borer, Strymon metinus, attack the fruit. Seed-feeding Lepidoptera, especially Cryptophlebia ombrodelta and Lobesia sp. cause much fruit damage and falling in northern Queensland. Carbaryl sprays considerably reduce the losses. In South Africa, a moth, Argyroploce peltastica, lays eggs on the surface of the fruit and the larvae may penetrate weak areas of the skin and infest the flesh. The fruit flies, Ceratites capitata and Pterandrus rosa make minute holes and cracks in the skin and cause internal decay. These pests are so detrimental that growers have adopted the practice of enclosing bunches of clusters (with most of the leaves removed) in bags made of "wet-strength" paper or unbleached calico 6 to 8 weeks before harvest-time. The Caribbean fruit fly, Anastrepha suspensa, has attacked lychee fruits in Florida.

Birds, bats and bees damage ripe fruits on the trees in China and sometimes a stilt house is built beside a choice lychee tree for a watchman to keep guard and ward off these predators, or a large net may be thrown over the tree. In Florida, birds, squirrels, raccoons and rats are prime enemies. Birds have been repelled by hanging on the branches thin metallic ribbons which move, gleam and rattle in the wind. Grasshoppers, crickets, and katydids may, at times, feed heavily on the foliage.

Few diseases have been reported from any lychee-growing locality. The glossy leaves are very resistant to fungi. In Florida, lychee trees are occasionally subject to green scurf, or algal leaf spot (Cephaleuros virescens), leaf blight ( Gleosporium sp.), die-back, caused by Phomopsis sp., and mushroom root rot (Clitocybe tabescens) which is most likely to attack lychee trees planted where oak trees formerly stood. Old oak roots and stumps have been found thoroughly infected with the fungus.

In India, leaf spot caused by Pestalotia pauciseta may be prevalent in December and can be controlled by lime-sulphur sprays. Leaf spots caused by Botryodiplodia theobromae and Colletotrichum gloeosporioides, which begin at the tip of the leaflet, were first noticed in India in 1962.

Lichens and algae commonly grow on the trunks and branches of lychee trees.

The main post-harvest problem is spoilage by the yeast-like organism, which is quick to attack warm, moist fruits. It is important to keep the fruits dry and cool, with good circulation of air. When conditions favor rotting, dusting with fungicide will be necessary.

Fig. 73: Peeled, seeded, lychees (Litchi chinensis) are canned in sirup in the Orient and exported to the United States and other countries.

Lychees are most relished fresh, out-of-hand. Peeled and pitted, they are commonly added to fruit cups and fruit salads. Lychees stuffed with cottage cheese are served as salad topped with dressing and pecans. Or the fruit may be stuffed with a blend of cream cheese and mayonnaise, or stuffed with pecan meats, and garnished with whipped cream. Sliced lychees, congealed in lime gelatin, are served on lettuce with whipped cream or mayonnaise. The fruits may be layered with pistachio ice cream and whipped cream in parfait glasses, as dessert. Halved lychees have been placed on top of ham during the last hour of baking, or grilled on top of steak. Pureed lychees are added to ice cream mix. Sherbet is made by extracting the juice from fresh, seeded lychees and adding it to a mixture of prepared plain gelatin, hot milk, light cream, sugar and a little lemon juice, and freezing.

Peeled, seeded lychees are canned in sugar sirup in India and China and have been exported from China for many years. Browning, or pink discoloration, of the flesh is prevented by the addition of 4% tartaric acid solution, or by using 30º Brix sirup containing 0.1% to 0.15% citric acid to achieve a pH of about 4.5, processing for a maximum of 10 minutes in boiling water, and chilling immediately.

Food Value Per 100 g of Edible Portion*
Fresh Dried
Calories 63-64 277
Moisture 81.9-84.83% 17.90-22.3%
Protein 0.68-1.0 g 2.90-3.8 g
Fat 0.3-0.58 g 0.20-1.2 g
Carbohydrates 13.31-16.4 g 70.7-77.5 g
Fiber 0.23-0.4 g 1.4 g
Ash 0.37-0.5 g 1.5-2.0 g
Calcium 8-10 mg 33 mg
Phosphorus 30-42 mg
Iron 0.4 mg 1.7 mg
Sodium 3 mg 3 mg
Potassium 170 mg 1,100 mg
Thiamine 28 mcg
Nicotinic Acid 0.4 mg
Riboflavin 0.05 mg 0.05 mg
Ascorbic Acid 24-60 mg 42 mg

*According to analyses made in China, India and the Philippines.

The lychee is low in phenols and non-astringent in all stages of maturity.

To a small extent, lychees are also spiced or pickled, or made into sauce, preserves or wine. Lychee jelly has been made from blanched, minced lychees and their accompanying juice, with 1% pectin, and combined phosphoric and citric acid added to enhance the flavor.

The flesh of dried lychees is eaten like raisins. Chinese people enjoy using the dried flesh in their tea as a sweetener in place of sugar.

Whole frozen lychees are thawed in tepid water. They must be consumed very soon, as they discolor and spoil quickly.

In China, great quantities of honey are harvested from hives near lychee trees. Honey from bee colonies in lychee groves in Florida is light amber, of the highest quality, with a rich, delicious flavor like that of the juice which leaks when the fruit is peeled, and the honey does not granulate.

Medicinal Uses: Ingested in moderate amounts, the lychee is said to relieve coughing and to have a beneficial effect on gastralgia, tumors and enlargements of the glands. One stomach-ulcer patient in Florida, has reported that, after eating several fresh lychees he was able to enjoy a large meal that, ordinarily, would have caused great discomfort. Chinese people believe that excessive consumption of raw lychees causes fever and nosebleed. According to legends, ancient devotees have consumed from 300 to 1,000 per day.

In China, the seeds are credited with an analgesic action and they are given in neuralgia and orchitis. A tea of the fruit peel is taken to overcome smallpox eruptions and diarrhea. In India, the seeds are powdered and, because of their astringency, administered in intestinal troubles, and they have the reputation there, as in China, of relieving neuralgic pains. Decoctions of the root, bark and flowers are gargled to alleviate ailments of the throat. Lychee roots have shown activity against one type of tumor in experimental animals in the United States Department of Agriculture/National Cancer Institute Cancer Chemotherapy Screening Program.


Fertilizer

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Fertilizer, natural or artificial substance containing the chemical elements that improve growth and productiveness of plants. Fertilizers enhance the natural fertility of the soil or replace the chemical elements taken from the soil by previous crops.

The use of manure and composts as fertilizers is probably almost as old as agriculture. Modern chemical fertilizers include one or more of the three elements that are most important in plant nutrition: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Of secondary importance are the elements sulfur, magnesium, and calcium.

Most nitrogen fertilizers are obtained from synthetic ammonia this chemical compound (NH3) is used either as a gas or in a water solution, or it is converted into salts such as ammonium sulfate, ammonium nitrate, and ammonium phosphate, but packinghouse wastes, treated garbage, sewage, and manure are also common sources of it. Phosphorus fertilizers include calcium phosphate derived from phosphate rock or bones. The more soluble superphosphate and triple superphosphate preparations are obtained by the treatment of calcium phosphate with sulfuric and phosphoric acid, respectively. Potassium fertilizers, namely potassium chloride and potassium sulfate, are mined from potash deposits. Mixed fertilizers contain more than one of the three major nutrients—nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Mixed fertilizers can be formulated in hundreds of ways.

On modern farms a variety of machines are used to apply synthetic fertilizer in solid, gaseous, or liquid form. One type distributes anhydrous ammonia, a liquid under pressure, which becomes a nitrogenous gas when freed from pressure as it enters the soil. A metering device operates valves to release the liquid from the tank. Solid-fertilizer distributors have a wide hopper, with holes in the bottom distribution is effected by various means, such as rollers, agitators, or endless chains traversing the hopper bottom. Broadcast distributors have a tub-shaped hopper from which the material falls onto revolving disks that distribute it in a broad swath. See also manure.

This article was most recently revised and updated by Letricia Dixon, Copy Editor.


The Great Peruvian Guano Bonanza: Rise, Fall, and Legacy

Few other Latin American countries have fallen prey to a commodity bonanza quite like Peru. While other nations have historically suffered from speculative oil, agricultural, and metal export booms, it is only in Peru that we find an epoch of Gold and Silver juxtaposed with an Age of Manure[i].

Peru emerged from colonialism a nation in tatters – its infrastructure destroyed, people divided, and political system “as unstable as water.[ii]” While most of Colonial Spanish America had raised arms against centuries of oppression, Peru remained a loyalist stronghold that had to be pressured from the North and South by the liberating armies of Bolívar and San Martín. In the process, Peru became heavily indebted to British bankers who had financed the revolution. Yet in 1840, amidst deep pessimism, the nation stumbled upon what appeared to be instant salvation, a windfall unlike any other. The world’s largest supply of bird excrement known as guano lay caked in mounds, more than 150 feet high, on the Chincha Islands off its southern Pacific coast.[iii]

For the next four decades, Peru controlled the entire world fertilizer industry. Before the invention of synthetic fertilizer derived from petroleum, guano enriched the soils of Europe and the U.S. with its high concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorous. It was a prosperous time, marked by decadence and the revival of the urban elite. However, the Peruvian government ultimately failed to capitalize on the bonanza.[iv] By the end of the boom in 1883, Peru was almost exactly where it had started. Indebted to British bankers, politically unstable, and with even less territory than when it began, Peru slowly started to recover from the disintegration of its guano industry. Given Peru’s contemporary economic success, one can only hope that the nation has learned from the catastrophe and its haunting legacy.

The conditions were just right

The Humboldt Current carries cold, nutrient rich Antarctic waters up the Peruvian coast, providing for a vibrant aquatic ecosystem. Teaming schools of anchoveta, a relative of the anchovy, are preyed upon by millions of cormorants, pelicans, and boobies. For millennia, these seabirds discharged their fishy droppings on a chain of coastal islands, whose extremely dry climate preserved millions of tons of the accumulating bird feces.

The Inca, the first civilization to harvest guano as fertilizer, placed special importance on the commodity, forbidding anyone to hunt the seabirds on penalty of death. Through strict regulation, the Inca were able to maintain a renewable supply of the natural fertilizer and feed its extensive empire. Yet, guano was of little interest to the Spaniards who lusted after the shiny silver of Potosí and exploited the mines of its Peruvian Viceroyalty in modern day Bolivia. Peru, the gem of the Spanish Empire during the early period of colonialism, propelled Spain to a position of global power while causing currency inflation throughout the rest of Europe.[v] By the mid-eighteenth century, however, overwork and disease had killed off most of the native labor force and the colonial Peruvian economy had lost relevance to Rio de la Plata.[vi]

After gaining its independence in 1821, Peru struggled to find a stable product to export that would allow it to develop its economy. In the post-colonial era, many Latin American countries engaged in a phenomenon known as the “commodity lottery,” in which each respective nation chose its most profitable and easily extractable natural resource for export as the primary focus of its economy.[vii] Peru attempted to revive its mines that had been destroyed during the wars of independence, but doing so required large amounts of capital investment. The political system reeled in the wake of economic stagnation, and from 1821 to 1845, the nation saw 50 presidents and five separate constitutions.[viii] There seemed to be no good product that would drive the Peruvian economy out of the chaos of the post-revolutionary era.

Fortunately for Peru, German chemist Justus Von Leibig reaffirmed Peruvian guano to be a useful fertilizer in his 1840 study on organic chemistry. The British were ecstatic and heavily supported Leibig’s research. By the following year, merchants from Antony Gibbs and Son had formed a joint venture with the Peruvian government to extract the deposits. From 1840 to 1870, Peru exported 12 million tons of guano valued at USD 500 million.[ix] In an effort to maximize state revenue and better control the flow of trade, the Peruvian government nationalized the Guano Islands in 1861. As gold poured into Peruvian coffers, the government succeeded in repaying its loans to the British and was ready to begin development projects in an effort to modernize the nation. New public works began every day, including an ambitious plan to build a railroad through the Andes. President Ramón Castilla, the most powerful in a long line of caudillos from the previous era, pioneered a series of reforms that abolished slavery, eliminated the head tax on indigenous Peruvians, and started a public education system.[x] As English and Irish entrepreneurs, followed by Chinese immigrant laborers flooded the capital, Lima became a cosmopolitan city, bustling with culture and business from around the world.[xi]

But everything went so wrong

According to economist Jonathan Levin, growth during the guano boom was contained within an “enclave,” hermetically sealed off from the rest of the economy.[xii] At its height, throughout the 1850s and 1860s, the spike in guano exports was accompanied by stagnation in almost every other economic sector.[xiii] The mining industry, which had rebounded during the late 18 th century, did not receive enough investment to sustain any meaningful level of economic growth. Production throughout the countryside came to a standstill, as the metropolis eclipsed its post-independence prestige. Rising wealth was not accompanied by effective reinvestment in diversifying the economy. While some urban plutocrats funneled money into sugar plantations as an alternative industry, it was simply not enough to counteract the fall of guano. The enclave was so tightly concentrated that it was as if the vast majority of the population had become a novelty to the increasingly powerful Lima plutocracy.[xiv]

Unlike populist movements that swept Latin America during the 20 th century, which nationalized industries with the intention of sharing a nation’s bounty with a larger portion of the population, the “nationalization” of the guano deposits was purely mercantilist. With a virtual monopoly over an entire world commodity market, the Peruvian Government artificially overvalued the price per ton through manipulating the amount sold on consignment to British Merchants. Most state revenues were directly siphoned by a small collection of wealthy limeños and a growing class of bureaucrats and pensioners. The regions of the Sierra and Amazon remained desperately poor and unconnected to the coastal clamor.

Wealth concentration within Lima revived the urban plutocracy, which exercised control over the political system with the sole intention of preserving its own interests. In the post-independence era, 1821-1840, it was the provincial landed elite (primarily from Arequipa and Trujillo) and the caudillos they sponsored who jockeyed for control of the capital. After capturing Lima, these caudillos and their supporters received the benefits of the nation’s economy.[xv] Since the state received the majority of the guano revenue, the spoils were handsomely distributed among associates of the president. This politically well-connected class evolved into the urban elite. In addition, as a coastal activity, guano shifted the economic center away from the countryside and towards the capital and nearby ports. This power shift backfired on the steady stream of provincial caudillos from this era who found it increasingly difficult to oppose the growing power of the urban plutocracy. By 1872, the urban elite had established its hegemony with the “popular election” of José Simón Pardo, in which only 1.5 percent of the population voted.[xvi] However, even Pardo’s austerity measures were unable to prevent the inevitable collapse of Peru’s guano industry.[xvii]

The euphoria of the Guano Era was abruptly shattered by a disastrous mix of resource exhaustion, global recession, and military defeat. Peru had imprudently used its supply of guano as a guarantee for its British loans. The government was dangerously close to running out of the manna that had sustained its decadence for years. By the 1870s there was little left to extract, the fumes of an already empty tank used up.[xviii] Concurrent with the rapid pace of exhaustion was a global recession that caused the price of guano to sink. Known in Europe as the Long Depression, this distant crisis was brought on by Otto von Bismarck’s decision to discontinue minting silver in favor of the gold that Germany had just acquired from France as tribute for its victory in the Franco-Prussian war. Subsequently, a panic in the U.S. banking system caused a railroad bubble to burst, which in turn reduced investment in the already waning guano industry.[xix] Peruvian state revenue quickly plummeted, and in 1876, the government was forced to default on its British loans, which at the time totaled more than USD 32 million.[xx] Pardo attempted to cut government expenditures and to reduce a growing trade gap, but his efforts failed to avert an economic catastrophe – an event that would resurrect nostalgia for the caudillo “man on horseback.”

After only three years in power, the “democratically” elected Pardo was toppled in 1876, by Mariano Ignacio Prado. A consonant may have been rearranged and an era of republican elite power sharing averted, but that was where the hope of salvation ended. Prado would lead Peru into a disasterous war with Chile, in defense of Bolivian nitrate fields. Used as an ingredient in explosives, the nitrate deposits of the then-Peruvian controlled Atacama provided a viable alternative export to compensate for the demise of guano.[xxi] Unfortunately, the resulting war, known as the War of the Pacific ended in the devastating defeat of Peru and Bolivia. After only one year of fighting, Chile had seized the Atacama and now occupied Lima as guerilla campaigns continued to resist Chilean occupation until 1884. By the war’s end, Peru had lost all of its nitrate resources along with much of its pride.

Similarities and differences in Peru today

Despite 130 years of Peruvian history and fundamental economic differences in today’s globalization, there still exist many underlying commonalties with the former bonanza days. Since 2006, Peru’s economy has expanded at an average of around 9 percent annually (with the exception of 2009), a rate eerily similar to the growth at the height of the guano boom.[xxii] Additionally, this recent boom is directly connected to rising global commodity prices, a result of increased demand from the ravenous appetite of the ‘Asian Tigers.’ Throughout January and February of this year, Peruvian exports to China rose by 12 percent, reaching USD 926 million and overtaking exports to the U.S, which totaled USD 889 million. More startling still, in the same period, exports to South Korea and India have increased by 245 and 238 percent, respectively.[xxiii] While British and U.S. export demands have been eclipsed by those of eastern nations, they still exert great pressures on the Peruvian economy. Indeed, economic euphoria during the boom years from 2006 to 2008 was still precariously tied to foreign markets in the face of a global recession. Amid falling demand in 2009, Peru’s GDP contracted briefly by 0.9 percent, but quickly rebounded in 2010 at a growth of 10 percent, directly following a recovery in China and its Asian neighbors.[xxiv] Chinese indentured servants have been replaced by Chinese capitalists, but the chain of commodity volatility remains securely shackled.

Yet much unlike the guano-based boom, Peru’s economy today resembles a balanced commodity burrito stuffed with gold, copper, fishmeal, petroleum, zinc, textiles, apparel, asparagus, and coffee, among others. And while Peru still struggles to expand its manufacturing export industry, it has made significant progress in diversifying its export bundle over the past year, during which non-traditional exports rose by 38.4 percent. [xxv] The rise has continued through 2011, as April showed a continued growth of 27.6 percent.[xxvi]

In addition to the diversification of its economy, Peru has made great strides in development and poverty reduction. According to the Peruvian government, poverty has fallen by 14.5 percent from 44.5 percent in 2006.[xxvii] By the same token, extreme poverty has fallen from 16.1 to 13.7 percent between 2005 and 2008. However, it is important to accept these figures with caution in light of accusations of data fabrication. The Peruvian government allegedly changed 2005 poverty statistics from 44.5 to 48 percent to indicate a larger drop, and omitted population growth as a factor in its measurements. Additionally, most of these supposed gains have been concentrated in coastal cities, while well over 60 percent of the Andean Sierra population still lives in poverty.[xxviii]

In stark contrast to the guano industry of the 19 th century, modern-day guano is a cheap non-traditional specialty export. Extraction is heavily managed and regulated to prevent exhaustion, the laborers are of primarily Quechua heritage, and the birds and the fish they eat are protected from poachers and fishermen. Workers make around USD 600 a month, about three times the average wage in the highlands. High petroleum prices have now placed guano-based fertilizer at about USD 250 per ton, a relatively cheap alternative to synthetics that cost upwards of USD 600 per ton.[xxix] Guano is sold as a natural fertilizer for organic farmers around the world and much of it is used domestically as well. Ironically, when compared with most sectors of the Peruvian economy, it is the guano industry that least resembles the Guano Era.

The Guano era in Peruvian history was largely a developmental charade that left the nation confused and disoriented as it searched in vain for some semblance of progress to show for its boom time euphoria. As Peru struggled to piece its battered nation back together, Great Britain and the U.S. were able to walk away from the crisis with fertile fields rich in nitrogen and a hefty debt yet to be collected. The urban plutocracy, a class created from suckling on the pap of the bonanza, had invested some of its earnings in the coastal sugar industry, which started to expand as result. Meanwhile, mining began to recover some its former prominence, but the Sierra still remained underdeveloped unfinished was the railway meant to incorporate it into the economic and political hub along the Pacific. Instability would continue to plague the Peruvian Government into the 20 th Century, a direct result of economic and political uncertainty. Another strongman, Augusto B. Leguía, would preside over Peru for fifteen years from 1908 to 1912 and 1919 to 1930, in a dictatorial attempt to preserve order before the Great Depression would force him from power. From a colonial silver boom to a guano bonanza, the Peruvian economy resembles a two-humped Bactrian camel pacing forward with an uneven gait. However, there is hope that modern Peru will be able to sustain meaningful progress into the new century and that the similarities with its shaky past prove only skin deep.

References for this article can be found here.

Source: Volker.umpfenbach.de


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