Lately, attending online classes via livestream is as much a reality for farmers in China as it is for many students around the world.
Every year, the period between March to May is when farmers in China start planting their next harvest. However this year, disruptions caused by the coronavirus outbreak have led not just to delays in accessing essentials such as seeds and fertilizers, but also impacted the training of farmers, which has typically been done through offline classes and roadshows by government bodies and technical institutes.
Online tutors are stepping into the breach.
Curiosity breeds interest
Li Wenxue is one such farmer who signed up for a livestreamed course on agriculture by e-commerce company Pinduoduo (PDD). He says he was curious and looking to broaden his horizons, not to mention eager to start work on his crops.
PDD introduced its New Farmer Lecture Series this March, a set of online training courses for farmers, aimed at boosting agricultural knowledge and digitization. The initiative is a collaboration with China Agricultural University and the National Engineering Research Center for Information Technology in Agriculture (NERCITA) in Beijing.
“Through the New Farmer Lecture Series, we hope to improve the quality of farmer training despite the disruptions of the Covid-19 outbreak,” said Zhao Chunjiang, Chief Scientist at NERCITA. “For the foreseeable future, we will continue to work with Pinduoduo to bring the full benefits of our research and technological capabilities to the 12 million farmers who are presently connected on Pinduoduo’s platform.”
Li was one of the 12,000 farmers who participated in the first series of lectures, which lasted 4.5 hours and covered topics ranging from how to prevent pest infestations to smart agricultural services and equipment. The agricultural lectures will run through April with tailor-made content from agronomists delivered via PDD’s livestreaming platform.
This online training is expected to benefit about 4 million anxious farmers, who will get a chance to address their questions directly to seasoned experts.
Sowing and growing digitally
The need for continuing education has become more pressing with advancements in agricultural technology and equipment, especially in times of adversity. A survey conducted by Qufu Normal University last month of village officials in 1,636 counties found that 60 per cent of respondents were pessimistic or very pessimistic about the planting season.
To help alleviate some of the pressures faced by Chinese farmers, PDD has launched a month-long Spring Planting Campaign wherein 300 million yuan ($42.9 million) of subsidies are being offered on farm supplies. Over 15,000 products ranging from agricultural machinery to seeds and fertilizers are being subsidized, as the company defrays costs to encourage farmers to purchase agricultural supplies online.
PDD’s farmer-centric campaign involves partnering with top agricultural supply brands to offer joint subsidies to farmers to lower their production costs. The company also works with key logistics enterprises to establish point-to-point guaranteed shipping channels to ensure supplies can reach villages and fields, where they are needed.
And most importantly, PDD leverages digital technology and agricultural research networks to hold online classes, along with offline instructions, to provide technical support to farmers on seed selection, application of fertilizers, use of modern farming tools etc. All this helps to strengthen the ability of farmers to withstand risk and uncertainty, and raises their confidence and productivity levels in an informed manner.
Together with PDD’s ongoing efforts to help farmers in 400 agricultural areas sell their produce directly to consumers, this forms a wholly integrated chain from planting to selling.
Li, the farmer who took the online livestreaming course offered by PDD, grows greenhouse crops on half-an-acre of land in Jilin province, and has been buying supplies from PDD since 2018.
He was keen on enhancing his technological capabilities, so he joined a farming machinery community online where farmers shared their experiences regarding various equipment. It was through this community that he heard about the online courses organized by PDD and its agricultural research partners.
“I originally started buying from Pinduoduo as the prices there are better than what I can get offline,” shared Li, who recently bought a micro tiller through PDD’s platform. “Later, as I further explored, I discovered that there is actually a lot of great agricultural equipment online.”
Li, who is planning to buy an additional 0.3 acres of land to grow corn, said he was “excited to receive further online training by experts”, a learning opportunity that continues to be a limited resource for farmers in China’s remote villages.