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Humble nang becomes big business for Xinjiang bakers

  • Source : CHINA DAILY Author : CUI JIA in Kashgar, Xinjiang Time : 09/25/2020 Editor : Liu Yinan

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    A baker works at a nang industrial park in Jiashi county, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, last week. [Photo by Wang Zhuangfei/China Daily]

     

    After returning to his village in Kashgar prefecture in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region as the gold medalist of the prefecture's first nang craftsmanship competition, Abdulxukuer Amar said he has realized that nang, a baked flatbread and staple food for the Uygur ethnic group, has more potential than he had ever imagined.

     

    Abdulxukuer, 40, is a nang master of Wuzailikumu, a village in Yuepuhu county. His family has been running a nang bakery in the village, with two traditional nang pits made of clay and heated with firewood, for six generations. The bakery is just off the main road linking Yuepuhu and Jiashi county, and is a popular stop for travelers who need to stock up on nang for their journey.

     

    "Every village in Xinjiang has a nang master baker who is well respected because Xinjiang people cannot live without nang. The family bakery had remained the same for centuries and always provided us with a stable income. But now I've decided to break the mold and make some changes after seeing how making nang has become a big business in Kashgar," Abdulxukuer said.

     

    Abdulxukuer was among the 135 nang master bakers who took part in the nang craftsmanship competition on June 28 in the city of Kashgar. Although he won the gold medal for presenting the judges with nang baked to perfection using his family's recipe, he felt he actually lost.

     

    "With support from the regional government, many nang masters I competed with had already started nang cooperatives and were selling nang online to people around China. Their businesses are booming. I never imagined that nang could be so popular and marketed this way," he said.

     

    In 2018, the regional government decided to boost the development of the nang industry because nang is a specialty of Xinjiang and has over 2,000 years of history. Also, nang has more than 300 varieties and must be handmade. By boosting the industry, many people can find employment in their locality and lift themselves out of poverty, according to a report on Xinjiang's nang industry published in July.

     

     

    Abdulxukuer Amar makes nang at his bakery in Yuepuhu, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, earlier this month. [Photo by Mai Kai/For China Daily]

     

    Booming business 

     

    The report, jointly conducted by the regional government and the regional association of industry and commerce, said Xinjiang now produces an average of 650 metric tons of nang a day, which is sold to 21 provinces and regions around China. Nang is particularly popular among customers in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Hainan province.

     

    To meet the demand of nang lovers, nang industrial parks have been set up around Xinjiang. The one in Jiashi county successfully caught the attention of Ark Kadeer, with a giant nang pit built at its entrance.

     

    "I drove by the industrial park on my scooter in September last year and saw the giant nang pit. I was told that it's a nang factory and they were looking for nang master bakers to run it. I then decided to have a go," the 31-year-old said.

     

    The industrial park now has 402 nang pits and 1,200 employees. With the help of electric nang pits that can be heated up quickly, it can currently produce an average of 300,000 nang a day. Meanwhile, its branding and online marketing team ensures that the industrial park distributes more than 100,000 nang a day to other parts of China.

     

    As a nang master baker of his village, Ark quickly worked his way up to the position of production supervisor. His monthly income is double what it was when he ran a small nang bakery in his village. "More than 690 employees here are from impoverished families in nearby villages. We are all glad to have the opportunity work near home and make our life better while promoting the staple food of the Uygurs," Ark said."People keep asking me if there are vacancies in the industrial park."

     

    According to research on Xinjiang's nang industry, more than 9,500 jobs have been created in the nang industry in Kashgar.

     

    In addition, due to the similarity in diet between Xinjiang and neighboring Central Asian countries, nang also has potential in Central Asian markets as Xinjiang is positioned as the core region on the Silk Road Economic Belt.

     

    Collective strength 

     

    After winning the gold medal and being inspired by other nang master bakers, Abdulxukuer shared his idea of opening a nang cooperative with his fellow villagers and village officials. "Ten villagers have already decided to join. The village committee has offered land to set up a small nang factory. It will also help us to sell our nang online. Although it's a bold move, the opportunity is too good to miss," he said.

     

    Abdulxukuer, who started to learn how to bake nang when he was 16, said he will keep his traditional bakery to serve the villagers and travelers while running the cooperative, which will use electric nang pits. "There is no conflict in embracing new changes and preserving traditions. My nang will remain unique and delicious," Abdulxukuer said.

     

    Xinjiang has nurtured and strengthened labor-intensive industries with distinctive strengths, such as nang and textiles. Therefore, people, especially those in areas of extreme poverty, can find work in their locality. Meanwhile, the region has also seized development opportunities brought by the Belt and Road Initiative to diversify its industrial structure.

     

    From 2014 to 2019, the total number of people employed in Xinjiang rose from 11.35 million to 13.3 million, an increase of 17.2 percent, according to the regional government.

     

    With the implementation of a series of employment policies, the goal that "each household has access to job opportunities, each person has work to do, and each month goes with an income" has largely been achieved. Profound changes have taken place in the life, work and mentality of the people of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang, and particularly in southern Xinjiang, according to a recently published white paper on employment and labor rights in the region.

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