China: Agriculture e-commerce creates jobs for rural communities

Wang Maosheng, 41, remembers March 25, 2019 well. That was the day he received his first-ever order for lilies produced in his hometown in Lintao, Gansu Province. The order was worth less than $3 but marked an important milestone in Wang’s comeback from a serious construction site accident that left him a paraplegic.

Unsure what he could do for a living, given his physical disability, Wang tried his hand at running an online business on Pinduoduo, a popular e-commerce platform for agricultural products. He signed up for courses conducted by the company and learned how to open a store, list products for sale, and run promotions.

Fast forward to today, and Wang runs two online stores on Pinduoduo selling tons of lilies a year. Last year, he sold 2 million yuan ($300,000) worth of the flowers. He now employs people from the community to help out with sorting and packaging.

“I live a very fulfilling life now, from ordering, sorting, and packing,” said Wang. “By taking part in e-commerce, I not only rediscovered my own purpose in life, but also helped the people around me and contributed to the development of my hometown. Most of my customers can’t tell that I am confined to a wheelchair.”

Wang freely shares his tips for success to anyone who asks because he believes that it will benefit Lintao if more people come to know and appreciate the quality of its products. “My wish is for more people to sell my hometown’s lilies to all parts of the country so that our hometown becomes famous for them,” he said.

Wang is among the growing number of merchants that sell agricultural products on Pinduoduo, one of China’s leading agricultural e-commerce platforms. The company reported revenue of 23.8 billion yuan for the first quarter and 881.9 million annual active buyers. It has connected 16 million farmers to the digital economy and offers a next-day delivery service that matches local demand with local supply.

Consumers are increasingly going online to buy fresh produce and other agricultural products as the selection widens and logistics improve. Demand for lychees, loquats, watermelons, pumpkins and other produce surged during a recent promotional campaign by Pinduoduo.

One of those bestsellers is cherries from Dechang County in Sichuan Province. Pinduoduo’s reach has allowed farmer-merchants like Lai Jianfeng, 44, to market directly to hundreds of millions of consumers across China. The online sales channel has enabled Lai’s community to attract customers from outside their immediate region, boosting the incomes of the growers.

During peak season, Lai’s hometown is a hive of activity, with everyone involved in picking, sorting, packaging and dispatching.

“Previously, there were multiple layers between the consumer and grower when we sold through wholesalers,” said Lai. “With e-commerce, we’re in direct contact with consumers and more in tune with their preferences and needs. That has made a huge difference.”

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