E-commerce Helps Alleviate Poverty In Rural Areas Of China

- Aug 30, 2019-

A piece of garlic may be a dime-a-dozen with an average price of less than one yuan (14 cents), but for farmers from Qixian county, in Central China's Henan province, it has been a "gold mine".

With 100,000 orders per day from e-commerce platforms at peak, more than 250,000 kilograms of garlic have been sold to places across the country.

Qixian is the "homeland" of garlic. The area had been suffering from poverty for decades, but it is now riding e-commerce to boost sales and shake off poverty in the process.

There are now more than 30 trading fairs in Qixian which have been established to handle 2 million metric tons of garlic annually. Last year, the county topped other areas in both annual output and acreage planted to garlic.

Similar stories can be seen in other farming counties and villages across China. Their transformation is part of China's broader efforts in internet development to relieve poverty and help find economic drivers to power growth.

In Zhangbei, a poverty-stricken county in northern Hebei province, an e-commerce center with an area of 1,600 square meters has been established to sell agricultural products including quinoa, a grain-like crop that the county got involved in several years ago.

In 2018, the county produced more than 1,650 tons of quinoa, with the total output value hitting 15 million yuan, official data showed.

To put it into the market, the local government scrambled to cooperate with major e-commerce platforms including Alibaba Group's Taobao, JD and Suning as well as China National Cereals, Oils and Foodstuffs Corp. The government also partnered with logistics firms including Yunda to help cut costs and boost profits for local farmers.

Quinoa had its origins in South America. It has gained worldwide popularity as a healthier substitute for white rice and pasta and a rare plant source of complete protein for people pursing a healthy lifestyle.

"Different from other similar grains, quinoa boasts higher economic value, meaning it is also an ideal way for precise poverty alleviation," said Jing Changlong, deputy magistrate of Zhangbei county.

President Xi Jinping has long stressed the importance of "precision" in the battle against poverty, saying the alleviation should focus on targeted people and industries.

Precisely targeted poverty alleviation has become a new approach in eliminating poverty in China. By 2017, this new approach had reduced the number of rural poor in the country by nearly 52 million.

The strategy has also received acclaim from United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who said he believes that "precise poverty reduction is the only way to help the poorest and achieve the ambitious goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development".

"China's poor rural areas suffer from poverty mainly because of information asymmetry. Many high-quality agricultural products are not sold in cities, while urban consumers are eager to buy healthy agricultural products," said Ge Shuang, head of Wenguang Tianxia, a company devoted to relieving poverty through e-commerce.

Ge said that e-commerce should play an important role in poverty alleviation and China has seen rural e-commerce become an important driver of rural economic development.

Such e-commerce efforts could transform the lives of farmers. Wang Qian from eastern Henan's Zhecheng county still remembers that three years ago, e-commerce and online shopping were totally "new and strange" to them.

It is at that time that the Henan government launched a series of policies to promote e-commerce, including encouraging local migrant workers to return to the province to start related businesses.

Wang, who had been doing international trading in Yiwu, Zhejiang province, decided to return and started the county's very first e-commerce shop. The shop mainly helps people to buy necessities online.

"I was still impressed that 40 days since the opening of my shop, one of our villagers came with a big bag of money and asked me to buy him a car, which marked the first car traded online in eastern Henan at that time," she said.

With this successful experience, Wang has expanded her business to help farmers to buy goods that can be sold such as handmade wooden baskets and agricultural products.

"This has provided profits to farmers and helped relieve poverty," she said, adding that on the first day of the shop, sales revenue approached 25 million yuan.

In 2018, more than 1.2 million people out of poverty in Henan province, with e-commerce one important way of doing so, official data showed.

With a population of more than 100 million people, Henan saw around 6 million people get out of poverty between 2013 and 2018.

Shi Bingrui, head of the Henan Provincial Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development, said Henan has made great progress in poverty reduction due to updated information and adjustment of management systems.

"This year, the province will help 650,000 poor people and over 1,000 impoverished villages to shake off poverty," he added.

Improving lives through e-commerce has had an accumulated effect, as increasing numbers of migrant workers who used to work outside the province came back to Henan.

Wang from Zhecheng county has attracted over 40 migrant workers to join her group. Influenced by Wang, more than 300 villagers have begun to work for e-commerce shops.

The impact could be bigger for local mothers, who used to stay at home to take care of children. They can now earn money with a computer.

Zhao Juan from Zhecheng county, for instance, can deal with over 20 orders from e-commerce platforms daily, changing her former life of "zero income" to earn an average of 6,000 yuan each month.

In total, Henan province has seen more than 1.3 million migrant workers return to the province to start businesses last year, and this created about 8.14 million jobs.

For Gao Yunfu, a farmer from Huichang county in East China's Jiangxi province, e-commerce had a major impact in renovating a certain industry.

After working at a high-tech company in Shanghai for seven years, Gao decided in 2008 to go back to his hometown, a poverty-stricken area.

Sensing huge opportunities in the bamboo fungus industry, he started a business and devoted himself to research and development.

During the Singles Day shopping gala on Nov 11 last year, his bamboo fungus was promoted and sold by livestreaming internet celebrities.

"A total of 600 to 700 boxes of bamboo fungus were sold that day alone, which was much higher than our average sales volume," said Gao.

He said the significance of e-commerce goes beyond improving sales revenue.

"It turns a food type not currently in vogue into a popular product. The popularity also helps farmers to avoid serious losses in the low season or in an uneven market," he said.