Business & Economy

Hi-tech, high yields: Chinese farmers reaping benefits of technology

By Javier García

Xian Ba Hu, China, Aug 28 (efe-epa).- The latest technologies such as artificial intelligence, big data, and 5G are changing the face of Chinese agriculture.

China has prioritized the use of new technology in rural areas as well as boosting the automation of cultivation, although the technological progress in agriculture still lags far behind other sectors of daily life.

A lot remains to be done to convert one of the world’s largest agricultural sector – which has revolved around human labor for thousands of years – into an “automated digital farm” to allow a country with just 5 percent of the cultivable land worldwide to feed its 1.4 billion people, around 15 percent of the global population.

According to its agricultural development plan 2019-2025, the Chinese government aims to digitize the countryside within the next five years by providing 5G coverage in over 70 percent of the territory and ensuring that new technologies represent at least 15 percent of the agricultural added value.

Robots to detect diseases and pests and shepherd animals, the Internet of things, mobile applications to monitor crops, drones designed to carry out irrigation and fumigation as well as satellite imaging to deal with natural disasters, are some of the technologies already used in the country.

The use of big data is also transforming the lives of farmers.

In Xiuwen, a hilly county of the southern Guizhou province, the state’s Development and Investment Corporation collects and manages data from the local agricultural cooperatives and family-run farms, apart from tracking consumer preferences and distribution channels.

Zheng Jian, a spokesperson of the company, said thanks to big data and AI, they were able to track the precise evolution of crops in real-time, the consumers’ demands, and what type of pesticides or fertilizers should be recommended to achieve the given quality standards.

The state-owned corporation works with local plantations of kiwi, one of the main products of the area, grown over an area of 167,000 Chinese mu (11,133 hectares or 27,500 acres).

It also decides the sales prices for distribution, with the help of big-data that calculates the national average and prices in other markets.

“Our province is very mountainous, kiwi grown at different altitudes have different sizes. My system analyzes where one can plant the standard fruits and we tell farmers where to do it,” said Zheng.

Almost all plantations of kiwi, most of them now grouped in cooperatives, have installed video cameras for identifying pests, the degree of ripening, or any other occurrence in real-time.

The big data network of Xiuwen, which is connected with the agricultural ministry’s database, consists of 1,656 nodes that contain all the information of the industrial chain, ranging from data from the plantations and farmers’ observations to the warehouses and fertilizer stores.

Just 300 of the nodes have been completed so far, while information from the remaining needs to be managed to make the system function fully.

Through QR codes incorporated in the kiwis and a mobile app, surveys are also carried out among consumers to know their preferences.

The executives use the mobile app to consult the data, while a mini-program on the popular Chinese messaging app WeChat has been developed for the farmers, where they can introduce and access information apart from seeking expert advice.

Zheng knows how much and what has been bought by each peasant in the fertilizer and pesticide stores, as they have to identify themselves at the shops, apart from the quantities used in their plantation and the remaining amount of surplus product.

The technology also provides a safe recycling point for the pesticides to prevent further soil pollution, one of the biggest problems of the Chinese countryside.

Zheng claimed that technology in the kiwi plantations had enabled 645 people to rise above the poverty line in 2019 in the county, which has a population of around 360,000.

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