Internet Changes Chinese Farmers' Life

With just a few keyboard strokes, Wang Shiwu sent the information out on the Internet: There are five million kg of dried sweet potato slices seeking buyers in his village.

The 54-year-old farmer then leaned back in his chair, poured a cup of tea and began sipping.

"There will be lots of E-mails from buyers soon, you just wait, " Wang said confidently.

Wang lives in a mountainous village in Xiaoxian County, Anhui Province, in east China, where selling their products had long been a major headache for farmers, as in many other Chinese villages.

Until a few years ago, Wang was a peddler in the nearby villages and markets, carrying his goods in a basket.

"When I heard about the Internet two years ago, I realized what a wonderful opportunity had arrived," he said.

"On the Internet, you can get a vast amount of market information very quickly and cheaply."

Wang acted quickly. With the help of local technicians, he was soon surfing the Internet in his own home.

Last August, Wang launched his Shiwu Information Service. As a publicity step, he provided market information to his fellow villagers free of charge in the beginning.

Wang later told this reporter on the phone that he had already sold two million kg of potato slices. And the price was 0.1 yuan per kg higher than at the local market.

Throughout Anhui, farmers with their own computers are still a minority. But most of them have access to the Internet.

By the end of April this year, 90 percent of the towns in Anhui -- 1,634 -- had set up Internet information services that offer free market information to local farmers.

Shao Guohe, an official of the provincial government, said upgrading traditional agriculture with information technology is now an important strategy of the province.

In Xiaoxihe Town, Fengyang County, farmer Wang Zhengguo praised the service as a "really good idea".

Soon after the village issued an offer of garlic sales and sand on the Internet, it was receiving businessmen from neighboring Shandong Province, he said.

Other local farmers said it had been hard for them to get market information in the past; when they did obtain such information, it usually turned out to be outdated and useless.

Fang Yu, an information expert from the Ministry of Agriculture, said most Chinese farmers still rely on books, TV, face-to-face talks and other traditional means to acquire information, but the Internet is now supplying 20 percent of the information going to farmers.

With the rapid spread of the Internet in rural China, it will definitely become a new engine for agricultural growth, said Fang.

Some people had worried that China's less-educated farmers would not be able to handle such a hi-tech information mode as the Internet. But farmer Chen Wendong said most farmers, especially the younger ones,learn quickly, with a little training.

Since the town's information service came into use, the old idle-season has vanished from the calendar of his fellow villagers, said Chen.

"If you can say that books, radio and TV gave us farmers a pair of feet to walk on the road to prosperity, then the Internet has given us a pair of wings with which to fly," said Chen.

The province is also operating a China Grain Network, which hosted several online grain trade fairs last year. Farmers sold more than 100 million kg of grain on those occasions.

Wang Lizhu, a provincial agricultural official, said Anhui farmers recorded an online turnover of 500 million yuan-worth last year.

Incomplete statistics show that China now has 2,200 websites offering agricultural information.

The Internet is not only changing the way farm products are marketed, it is also changing the way they are produced.

Huang Deshuang, an expert from the Agricultural Information Technology Lab under the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, said that the lab has developed multi-media or Internet-based systems for the production of over 40 farm products.

These system are being applied to over 500 counties in 23 regions of the country, Huang said.

(People's Daily 06/09/2001)

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