When Li Wenhua stepped into his orange orchard one November morning in 2016, it was unlikely that he expected anything other than a fairly routine day at work. The Chinese farmer lives just outside of Chengdu, in Southwest China, where the humid air can make winters unpleasantly cold. However, he was in store for more than bad weather that day.
Li was an ordinary farmer. His is one of the most prevalent surnames in China, second only to Wang, and it’s shared by over 100 million people worldwide. But while it was the surname of the emperors during the illustrious Tang Dynasty, Li himself couldn’t lay claim to any royal blood.
With Li being a citrus farmer, his thoughts were likely focused on trying to ensure a strong orange crop. That year, orchards throughout China had been hit by citrus greening disease, reducing their expected yields. But as he walked through his orchard, he moved closer to discovering something that would improve his fortunes regardless of the health of his trees.