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Villagers cash in on livestreaming

By LI LEI | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2023-12-02 06:41

Volunteers and a fruit farmer sell pears through livestreaming in Cenwang village in Cengong county, Guizhou province, in September. HU PANXUE/FOR CHINA DAILY

Fungi harvest leads to million-dollar success in rural e-commerce boom

Geru Drolma began digging for fungi on the Qinghai-Tibet plateau at the age of six, following in the footsteps of her ethnic Tibetan parents, as her family eked out a meager living from sales to nearby shops.

Fourteen years later she shot to stardom when a video of the arduous work that she posted online attracted half a million viewers, putting her on the path to prosperity.

On a sunny day in May 2017, Geru Drolma, then 20, and her mother ventured into the snowcapped landscape near their home in Daocheng county, in Sichuan province's Ganzi Tibetan autonomous prefecture, in the hope of unearthing lots of cordyceps, a fungus native to the region that grows on the bodies of caterpillars and is used in traditional Chinese medicine.

She shot a video of the process on her cellphone to share on Kuaishou, a short video app she had downloaded a few months earlier. Due to the poor phone signal she had to climb to a higher altitude in the mountains to upload the clip.

The next day, when Geru Drolma logged onto her Kuaishou account, she was stunned. The cordyceps-digging video had been viewed 500,000 times and she had 3,000 new followers. Her inbox was overwhelmed with messages asking about the price of cordyceps.

She said she was amazed that the "dull routines of my life could be something interesting for others".

Geru Drolma, who now has 2.2 million followers on Kuaishou, then decided to cash in on her newfound fame by livestreaming about local farm produce, an increasingly popular online marketing strategy.

The business was so successful that in 2019 she started a cooperative with her husband to supply their livestreaming channel with a constant flow of local specialties.

"Our clients place millions of orders online each year, and the revenue of our cooperative can reach 5 million yuan ($700,000) a year," she said.

Geru Drolma is among a growing number of farmers riding the wave of China's e-commerce livestreaming boom.

Assisted by better telecommunication infrastructure in once-isolated hamlets and cheaper courier services, the farmers-turned-hosts bypass middlemen to pitch their agricultural products directly to deep-pocketed customers thousands of kilometers away.

Such videos have even led to the creation of a new genre of clips on Kuaishou and other short video platforms: village live broadcasts, known in Chinese as cunbo.

In a report released in September, Kuaishou said more than 870 million yuan worth of farm produce was sold on the platform last year through village live broadcasts, up 55 percent year-on-year.

It said more than 300 million users had been identified as being interested in content with rural themes.

In January, Kuaishou launched a village broadcaster training program that aims to promote China's rural revitalization campaign by helping village vloggers get more exposure.

The company said it trained 100,000 rural residents in live broadcast skills in the first half of this year, equipping them with the skills needed to livestream rural life and promote sales of farm produce or traditional handicrafts designated as intangible cultural heritage.

The effort has created 250,000 jobs in about 25,000 townships nationwide, it added.

The economic potential of rural-themed videos and livestreams has also been recognized by the authorities.

In August, the Ministry of Commerce released a three-year action plan to boost e-commerce in China's counties and surrounding villages.

As part of plan, grassroots authorities were asked to encourage e-commerce livestreaming and cultivate local trademarks.

Ministry figures show that online retail sales of rural products topped 1.12 trillion yuan in the first half of this year, up 12.5 percent year-on-year.

Also in August, after floods and other extreme weather events battered many parts of China, the National Rural Revitalization Administration issued a circular calling for greater efforts to ensure financially vulnerable rural families did not suffer.

Among the many measures it outlined, the circular encouraged the purchase of agricultural products from affected regions and said organizations funded by public money needed to collaborate with e-commerce enterprises to support the expansion of farm produce sales.

"Efforts are needed to guide financially strapped households in transforming their products into marketable goods and tangible cash, ultimately promoting stable employment and income growth," it said.

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