Thirty-seven-year-old Wang Shanxi , an onion farmer from Minqin county, Gansu province , squats at the end of his field and smokes quietly with a heavy heart. Drought and encroaching salinity have sapped the fertility of his 800 square metres of cropland and his onion harvest is almost 30 per cent lower than last year's. Mr Wang is wondering whether he should make the 110km journey south to Wuwei to find odd jobs to supplement the income for his four-mouth family. Someone told him the government was building a huge network of gas pipelines in Wuwei and is hiring more hands. A number of men from his village have already gone and wages were said to be good. The gas pipelines in question are the second backbone conduit traversing China and channelling fuel from Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to the prosperous but energy-thirsty Yangtze River and Pearl River deltas. Wuwei is just one knot in the 4,859km, 142.2 billion yuan (HK$161.93 billion) line which will pass through 14 provinces and municipalities in east and south China. Construction of the gas pipeline started in February and as it cuts a 1,100km corridor through Gansu, authorities hope it will not only help improve local infrastructure, but also offer ample energy and resources to fuel the province's newly announced industrialisation crusade. In April, the provincial government summoned more than 500 officials and cadres from grass-roots governments, big state-owned enterprises and local think-tanks to discuss one thing - how to reinvigorate Gansu's economy through a more aggressive industrialisation push. Representatives of county and prefecture governments were required to stand on the podium and speak about their planned industrial projects, and take part in brainstorming sessions presided over by the provincial governor and party secretary. As an incentive, the provincial government promised to award 1 million yuan to the first local government and/or enterprise to complete their assigned industrial makeover tasks. Lanzhou University regional economics professor Nie Hualin said the incentive underscored the keenness of the Gansu government for rapid growth of the local industrial economy. Gansu has a relatively broad industrial mix, covering the spectrum from oil, chemicals, machinery, electronics and mining to textiles, pharmaceuticals, coal and building materials. But, most of the industrial enterprises were established in the 1950s and 1960s, and are too technologically dilapidated to compete in the market economy, according to Professor Nie. The first large industrial enterprises in Gansu were all state owned and operated. They mined resources such as coal and oil or filled military orders for electronics products. But after about a half century of being tapped, the resources have almost dried up and the military- oriented enterprises are finding it hard to operate threadbare technologies amid high production costs. 'All these enterprises might have been able to revive themselves during the 1980s, when China was experiencing its first explosion in consumption, by updating their production know-how and revamping their product mix, but they missed the chance because of a lack of powerful financial support from the government,' Professor Nie said. Before 1979, when China kicked off its revolutionary opening-up and reform process, Gansu's economic performance was on the whole better than that of its neighbour, Shaanxi . But today, the relationship has been reversed. Last year, Shaanxi's gross domestic product grew by 14.4 per cent year on year to 537 billion yuan, almost double Gansu's 269.92 billion yuan, despite the latter also reporting double-digit growth of 12.1 per cent. But one more historical chance might be unfolding for Gansu's policymakers. The Gansu Economic Daily reported that an economic development zone encompassing Tianshui in east Gansu and the Guanzhong area, a group of cities surrounding Shaanxi economic dynamo Xian , will formally come into being in October. The economic zone will be a 69,600 sq km industrial corridor and its key industries will include space and aeronautics, high technology, advanced equipment manufacturing and modern service sectors. Relying on its traditional strengths in petrochemicals, electronics and machinery manufacturing, Gansu is eager to see the zone succeed and cannot afford to miss the economic bandwagon again. Yao Huiqin , a professor with a research centre under Xian's Northwest University, is optimistic the province has what is takes. 'Gansu should be able to catch this chance. Anyway, the province still has a more or less complete industrial structures and well-trained industrial workers, two prerequisites for any industrial takeoff,' Professor Yao said. Shaanxi authorities say Beijing has underscored the development of the Guanzhong-Tianshui economic zone, together with the Sichuan-Chongqing economic zone and the Beibu Gulf economic zone in Guangxi , as three essential components in the country's strategy to revitalise the mainland's expansive but long-time backwards western regions. Over the next decade, Shaanxi aims to boost the total GDP in the Guanzhong-Tianshui economic zone to more than 1 trillion yuan, putting it on a par with the Pearl River and Yangtze River deltas and the Bohai rim. As a first step, Tianshui has promised to invest 40.8 billion yuan in 107 projects in transport, energy, manufacturing, forestry and other agricultural sectors this year. All these projects have already been divided into smaller and specific sub-projects and assigned to local government officials, who will be held accountable if they fail to meet their targets. The provincial government also plans to double Gansu's industrial output from last year to 2012 at an annual industrial growth rate of about 15 per cent, pushing the industrial output to more than 45 per cent of the provincial GDP from the current 39.52 per cent. But some analysts are not as optimistic as the government about the prospects of those ambitious industrialisation schemes, pointing out constraints such as Gansu's remoteness, its severe lack of capital and its degraded environment characterised by chronic drought, desertification and pollution. 'It's likely we'll have to wait for another 10 years to see any substantial effect from those industrial development plans,' Professor Nie said.