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Luck is hard to come by but easy to sell in poverty-stricken Tongxin, in northwestern China. The town is the centre of a black-market trade in facai, a species of alga whose name is spelt and pronounced similarly to 'get rich'.

This has made it a popular form of 'edible good luck' among Chinese communities from Hong Kong to New York, where it has become a popular and expensive delicacy reports Emma Graham-Harrison in this article.

But the alga also plays an important role in the semi-arid areas of the country. It holds fine soil together, whilst retaining moisture that supports other plants.

Harvesting it leaves vast areas exposed to the wind, which led the government to ban the practice six years ago. For impoverished towns in the region where it grows, the illegal trade is a precious source of income.

Graham-Harrison explores the trade and facai's popularity in Hong Kong. The ban and environmentalist campaigns have merely served to raise prices — along with the dish's prestige.

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