Domestic news

China Focus: When the Internet meets agriculture

Release time:2016-01-26 Browsing times:1206

BEIJING, Aug. 2 (Xinhua) -- Being a farmer in China no longer means eking out a living in a backward industry. Farmers nationwide are adopting new business practices made possible by the Internet, boosting their earnings and modernizing the sector.

For Zhang Guoqin, growing crops sometimes simply needs a few clicks of the mouse.

In northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, he monitors his rice fields on computer screens. He uses a system of sensors and automatization which takes a lot of the toil and inefficiency out of his business. For example, his fields are irrigated automatically if sensors detect that they need it.

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

Such innovation is a new trend in Chinese farming, a welcome change of direction for a rural economy that has long been seeking modernization.

China's cabinet unveiled an "Internet Plus" action plan at the beginning of July targeted at integration of the Internet with traditional sectors to make them smarter and more efficient. Along with manufacturing, agriculture was on the top of the list.

Farming in China has been booming for over three decades. The summer grain output reached a record high of 141.07 million tonnes in 2015 after 11 consecutive years of increases.

Though harvests were good, inefficient sales channels, a shrinking labor population and lack of access to loans have been squeezing farmers' earnings and dragging down the rural economy.

In 2014, the per capita disposable income of rural residents rose 9.2 percent year on year to 10,489 yuan (1,720 U.S. dollars), less than half of that of urbanites, and 70.17 million rural Chinese earned an annual sum less than 2,300 yuan, the official poverty line.

However, the Internet, especially mobile networks, have provided agriculture with a new vision. By the end of 2014, nearly 30 percent of China's rural population were online.

E-commerce enables farmers to sell goods quickly, conveniently shop around for materials and obtain small loans more easily. The Internet has made intensive mechanized production achievable, boosted yields with fewer laborers and made agriculture greener and food safer.

Given the bright outlook, Internet companies and e-commerce giants are thronging to take a bigger share of the agricultural pie., China's largest online shopping platform, has launched an agricultural channel.

Its Internet conglomerate owner, Alibaba, also ambitiously plans to invest 10 billion yuan into 100,000 new service centers in Chinese villages in the next three to five years to help train farmers in Internet use.

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

Internet firms don't need the might of Alibaba to get involved. Beijing Tianchen Cloud Farm Co., developed Cloud Farm, an app designed as a one-stop shop for farming business.

It has amassed over a million registered users as it requires no more than a mobile phone and a SIM card, simplicity which is crucial in the Chinese countryside, where Internet infrastructure lags behind the situation in cities.

Han Guiyin, a farm owner in east China's Shandong Province, turns to Cloud Farm whenever he needs to source fertilizer or logistics services, apply for loans or even technological support.

However, there are still bottlenecks that have to be addressed to facilitate the national ambition of upgrading agriculture.

Analysts agree the government needs to improve infrastructure and logistics in mountainous regions, cultivate IT professionals and provide more information services to help farmers access the web.

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