How e-commerce is helping farmers in rural China sell apples and peppers

ALTHOUGH China boasts of high smartphone and internet penetration, e-commerce activity has been limited to urban cities and small towns in the past decade.

E-commerce players in the country looking to accelerate revenue growth started exploring China a few months ago — and it seems like their bet is paying off.

Xinhua has recently reported that in rural China, especially in provinces that lack access via roadways, are beginning to discover the opportunities that e-commerce and online sales offer.

While private e-commerce platforms are making inroads, the government is also playing a major role when it comes to helping China’s farmers their produce.

In the Lake Township of Liangshan’s Xide County, for example, farmers can sell their agricultural products to an e-commerce service station, taking away concerns about market access and logistics.

“In the past, I had to walk for hours while carrying peppers and potatoes to the nearest township to sell for almost nothing,” one farmer who earned an additional CNY10,000 (US$1500) via e-commerce told Xinhua.

According to Chinese media, the e-commerce service station purchased about 10,000 kg of peppers and 11,000 kg of buckwheat flour from six small villages — and sold them online — bringing in significant revenues for 230 (poor) households.

According to official statistics, the turnover of e-commerce in Xide has exceeded 168 million yuan this year, up 19 percent year on year.

“The development of rural e-commerce not only improved people’s incomes, but their lives too as more industrial products and necessities find a way to reach them,” said Xide County Deputy Head Mei Yong.

Not far from Xide County, another farmer has been selling apples via e-commerce and is delighted with his increased income.

Based in southwest China’s Sichuan Province, in the Yanyuan County of Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture, Hu Xiuhong has used WeChat to build a network of reliable, repeat customers.

“I didn’t know how to market my produce so I resorted to a simple way — befriending anyone I met, sending them my online store link and giving them free apples,” Xu told Xinhua.

In his first year, Xu sold 10,000 kg of apples via e-commerce to friends he made on WeChat. Over the next few years, with the help of customer referrals, he has grown his customer base to 3,800 on WeChat — and brings in revenues worth about CNY400,000 (US$57,000) from his orchard that spans two-hectares.

Word of Xu’s success soon spread in his prefecture, encouraging him to establish a co-operative that now sells apples worth CNY10 million (US$1.5 million).

According to Xinhua, e-commerce is taking off in pockets of rural China, benefiting farmers a great deal.

In the coming months, more farmers are expected to sell their produce online, gaining from the country’s growing digital infrastructure and mobile-first economy.

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