The Lujiangba valley in China’s southwestern Yunnan province lies 3,000 to 4,000 meters above sea level, has a dry climate and average annual temperatures of 21 degrees Celsius: all prime conditions for growing top-quality Arabica coffee.
In recent years, the region’s coffee has gained a good reputation and following among consumers. This has in turn benefited the growers, many of whom are from the Lisu ethnic minority.
En Huilan, 14, is one of several children in such a coffee-farming family. In 2006, the family arrived in the Lujiangba valley. At first, the family tried to grow and sell corn, but the returns were meager. As the family grew, so did their financial burden.
Things improved after they switched from corn to coffee. Soon, the family was making enough money to send their children to attend the local school. En Huilan excels at basketball and is one of the best players at her school.
By selling to agricultural merchants operating on Pinduoduo, China’s largest agriculture platform, coffee farmers like the Ens can tap more directly to a bigger consumer base and get better pricing for their crops. More than 16 million farmers across the country have sold through Pinduoduo’s platform, with 2,645 different types of agricultural products registering more than 100,000 orders.
Pinduoduo has been deeply involved in the region’s poverty alleviation and rural development efforts, establishing a series of rural coffee initiatives to help farmers learn new skills and improve their livelihoods. For instance, the company worked with the Yunnan Institute of Tropical Cash Crops to select high-quality coffee varieties suitable for the climate and soil conditions. Farmers at the inaugural Duo Duo Farm in Baoshan, Yunnan, received training from agronomists on how to grow coffee.
At the same time, Pinduoduo helped connect the cooperatives with coffee processors and provided marketing support to help these coffee farmers kickstart their sales on the platform. The company also brought many of the area’s New Farmers – young agricultural talent - to coffee conventions in Shanghai to learn about the sales and marketing of coffee.
By connecting growers and New Farmers with its pool of more than 800 million customers, Pinduoduo is helping to bring the area’s coffee to new consumers. As the region’s coffee becomes more well-known and sought after, the higher demand translates to more sales and better incomes for the farmers.
The rural coffee programs are part of broader efforts by Pinduoduo to get younger generations interested in agriculture. It is common for young people from poorer families to leave rural areas and head to cities for work. Pinduoduo wants to enable those who want to return home to be able to do so by setting up businesses and creating jobs, thereby helping themselves and their communities.
By mid-2020, the company has helped over 100,000 New Farmers to start farming businesses, assisting with logistics and providing a marketplace for produce. It has since pledged to train another 100,000 e-commerce merchants to boost sales from farms through online channels.
For En Huilan, being part of the digital economy has brought improvement to her family’s living standards. It has also widened her horizons.
During a coffee-tasting session in school, En grimaced at the bitterness of the coffee. “I wonder why people in the cities like the taste of coffee,” she said, adding that she’d like to find out for herself.
One day in the future, she would like to venture out of these mountains to see who is drinking the coffee that her family grew.