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China Cares: 'Internet Plus' farming plows into shared economy

Editor: Qian Ding 丨CCTV.com

09-26-2017 15:58 BJT

By Tom McGregor, CCTV.com Panview commentator and editor

Editor's Note: CCTV.com Panview presents 'China Cares' — series of special coverage on China's rural reforms, charities and comprehensive efforts to help those in poverty unlock their potential for success.

China's agriculture has long struggled to adapt to our modern-day era. Many rural villages are located in isolation with poor infrastructure, hindering farmers from enjoying more convenient access to bigger cities and markets in the country.

But building more roads should not be the sole solution for enriching rural villagers. They need better connections to WiFi, the Internet and IT (information technology) to upgrade crop production and sell goods online to consumers.

Accordingly in July 2015, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang working with China's Cabinet, the State Council, announced an ‘Internet Plus’ agenda to boost the domestic agriculture sector.

Farm-to-table platform

China's State Council believes the ‘Internet Plus’ strategy can spur economic development, especially in agriculture and the country's rural regions.

According to the Internet Plus agriculture plan, efforts are underway to boost the Internet, cloud computing, big data and IoT (Internet of Things) for rural villagers.

Farmers receive training from the government or even Alibaba Group in its 'Taobao Village' project that started in 2009. They learn how to open an online shop to sell crops or livestock. In 2016, Alibaba decided to invest over RMB10bn. to open 100,000 new service and training centers for farmers in the upcoming 3-5 years.

"Following the new generation of farmers, online stores selling farm produce have witnessed explosive growth and e-commerce is reshaping the whole industry," Chi Fulin, director of China (Hainan Province) Institute for Reform & Development.

Planting with sensors

Chinese farmers can use a variety of technologies and Social Media APPs to increase their per capital disposable incomes. According to Xinhua, Beijing Tianchen Cloud Farm Company has developed an APP designed as one-stop shopping for farmers.

As of Aug. 2015, more than one million registered users were signed up. They only needed a smart phone and SIM card. Farmers can tap on the APP to source fertilizer and logistics services located near them.

Such measures have helped to spur crop and livestock production. In 2015, the nation's summer grain production reached a record high - 141.07 million tons - for the 11th consecutive year.

Farmers, including Zhang Guoqin, in northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, have witnessed the benefits of adapting to new technologies. He has placed sensors on a rice field, allowing him to monitor weather and ground conditions from a smartphone or computer.

Big Data growing season

"Thanks to the data, we are able to track the conditions of crops, assess nutrient levels and forecast disasters," Zhang told Xinhua.

The 'Internet Plus' agriculture plan has already delivered proven results. Many farmers have witnessed a dramatic rise in incomes. Meanwhile, big data has helped them cut costs on logistics as they search for cheaper storage units and delivery methods.

E-commerce giant and Alibaba's main rival, JD.com has also joined in the rural development game by launching a hi-tech logistics network of drones, big data and IoT that will create an extensive cold chain, storage and distribution systems for Chinese farmers.

Another project inspired by the Chinese government has been set up in Xianju County, southeast China's Zhejiang Province.

A farmer harvests pitaya fruit in the Xianju Agriculture Experiment Park for Taiwan Farmers. Photo/Wang Zhuangfei from China Daily

The Xianju Agriculture Experiment Park for Farmers is home to 27 companies that operate hi-tech greenhouses to develop organic farming, seeds and new seedlings, as well as Chinese medicinal herbs and agriculture-tourism.

Shared economy farming

Hainan continues to encourage innovation in agriculture. The island province support rural tourism, 'Internet Plus' agriculture and the shared economy mode for farming.

As reported by Beijing Review, a public account has opened on WeChat, serving as an online shop to sell produce.

Wang Junxiang, product director of Hainan-based Internet service provider icloudinn Network, has opened an APP for shared farms in Haosheng, Hainan. Registered users can rent 'space gardens', livestock and coconut trees online.


The entrance of Haosheng Village in Wenchang, south China's Hainan Province  Photo by Zhou Huaye from Beijing Review

Users can hire local farmers to raise crops and monitor the process on a live-streaming APP. Over 2,000 coconut trees were adopted by overseas Chinese and tourists.

"Shared farms have multiple benefits," said Professor Wang Yiwu at Hainan University. They "offer more choices for tourists, startups and elders who migrate to Hainan", or those who prefer to remain at home in the big cities and still invest in the island's agriculture sector.

Eyes wide open

For China's 'Internet Plus' rural strategy to succeed, government officials, entrepreneurs, farmers and business people should embrace innovation as the key.

Farmers are finding it easier to raise crops and sell them with the assistance of IT, but they should also explore new formats to generate higher household incomes. Eventually, nearly all Chinese farmers will have access to the Internet, so it will be no big deal for farm families to run an online shopping site.

Hence, for farms or rural villages to stand out in the crowd and to attract more consumers and tourist visitors, they will have to develop new technologies that will place them a step ahead of the game.


(The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Panview or CCTV.com. )

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