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Across China: Savory snacks help vanquish poverty

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CHONGQING, June 15 (Xinhua) — Villagers in Shizhu Tujia Autonomous County of southwest China’s Chongqing Municipality share a slightly different delicacy from the rest of the country — potato chips coated with spicy paprika.

Chen Jing, a 30-something woman from the Tujia ethnic minority, grew up eating the homemade potato chips. She now runs a family business of mass producing such snacks in factory.

“What we sell under the brand of Shihaojia tastes just like before, in fact much healthier with a longer shelf life,” said Chen.

Shizhu Tujia Autonomous County, tucked away in the steep mountains and mired in abject penury, barely grows any crops but potatoes. With over 70 percent of its population belonging to the Tujia ethnic minority, its people had long fed themselves on potatoes.

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“Potatoes were our staple food and cost very little, with hardly any economic benefits. It used to cost less than a quarter of a dollar for every 500 grams of potatoes in the local market,” Chen recalled.

But, the Tujia people know how to master the knack for relishing life. Slices of deep-fried potatoes when showered with enticing red chili, can spice up the mundane dinner plate.

Chen’s parents sniffed an opportunity in the Tujia people’s old way of making crispy potato chips. In 2005, they perfected the cooking techniques and set up a food processing plant under the auspices of the local government.

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Grown at an elevation of 800 meters, potatoes in Shizhu are no longer a mere local specialty, but an internet sensation. Seasoned with red chili and Sichuan pepper, the crunchy Chinese potato chips make mouths water and can notch up more than 19 million yuan (about 3 million U.S. dollars) through online sales every year.

The 100-square-meter workshop has also been upgraded into a modern factory covering more than 700 square meters thanks to the lucrative business. The factory currently has 12 employees, mainly people from the local Tujia community. They can earn more than 100 yuan a day.

According to the statistics from the county’s commerce commission, the sales of local specialty products under the “poverty alleviation through consumption initiative” exceeded 120 million yuan in 2020, helping many villages shake off destitution in China’s battle against extreme poverty.

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