Before a computerized agricultural assistance system was introduced into their homes, farmers in the southwestern mountain area of Wuling had never seen a machine with a screen, a keyboard and a mouse - which is more commonly known as a computer.
Some of them had heard that the "electronic brain" could help people do high-tech things or be used by youngsters to play games, but they did not know it could also serve as "an expert who will never leave the field."
With the help of agricultural experts at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Enshi prefecture in Hubei Province has an established websites and developed a number of computer programs to help farmers solve technical production problems and keep up with the latest market information.
With a few clicks, they are now able to read about planting tea and fruit trees, or raising pigs and goats. And the tips offer specific solutions according to the geographic and natural conditions of the region.
As one of the 16 pilot counties inhabited by ethnic minorities in China, Hefeng, a county in Enshi, launched the computerized assistance system in January last year.
Computers were installed at agricultural service stations, farming companies and larger individual farms, helping people in five major farming areas - growing tea, Chinese chestnuts, goats, pigs and mushrooms.
It also covers 1,200 pilot farming households, some scattered in the mountains.
The difference being made by the technology is obvious. In the first nine months this year, 12.3 million yuan (US$1.5 million) more income was reported in Hefeng, with the profits from the five major production bases increasing from 17 to 100 percent compared to 2002.
"The computers have really helped me a lot," said Liu Yunyang, a goat-raising farmer in Xiaping Village in Hefeng, who cannot wait to tell people about the benefits of the system.
With the help of the system, the fertilization rate of his goats rose from 30 to 80 percent.
(China Daily October 30, 2003)