E-com­merce shapes up in an­cient city

China Daily (Canada) - - XINJIANG -

Saphola Anayat’s fa­ther used to make a liv­ing ped­dling veg­eta­bles off the back of a don­key cart in Kash­gar, the Xin­jiang Uygur au­ton­o­mous re­gion. Don­key carts are now a rare sight in the city, they have been re­placed by some­thing a bit more 21st cen­tury — com­put­ers.

“My fa­ther used to trans­port veg­eta­bles from vil­lage to vil­lage. When busi­ness was good, he came back all smiles, laden with snacks and treats for the fam­ily, but more of­ten than not, af­ter trekking for miles and miles to sell his crops, he was too tired to talk when he came back,” Saphola said.

Luck­ily for Saphola, 26, and his gen­er­a­tion, com­merce in the au­ton­o­mous re­gion is much eas­ier nowa­days.

Fol­low­ing his grad­u­a­tion from col­lege, Saphola at­tended a six-month e-com­merce course and se­cured a job at an e-com­merce of­fice in his home­town.

He tracks the vil­lage har­vest and co­or­di­nates with farm­ers to trans­port their prod­ucts from the field to the doorsteps of on­line-buy­ers. He also helps his fel­low vil­lagers, who are mostly com­puter il­lit­er­ate, with other on­line er­rands, such as book­ing ap­point­ments with doc­tors.

“My fa­ther’s gen­er­a­tion hardly knew there was a mar­ket be­yond the next vil­lage, but now, thanks to e-com­merce, cus­tomers from all over China are on our doorstep,” Saphola said.

Do­ing busi­ness across the vast re­gion is no easy task, es­pe­cially as it is nat­u­rally di­vided by large stretches of desert. The of­fice where Saphola works helps farm­ers over­come these ge­o­graph­i­cal bar­ri­ers.

Saphola works for Kash­gar Min­sheng E-com­merce Co, which has 43 of­fices across south­ern Xin­jiang.

The firm ac­cepts or­ders from whole­salers and pri­vate buy­ers and then co­or­di­nates with farm­ers to ful­fill these or­ders, said Liu Chao, com­pany owner.

Es­tab­lished in 2012, Min­sheng is the big­gest firm of its kind in the re­gion and co­op­er­ates with 5,000 farm­ers in 18 coun­ties and cities in south­ern Xin­jiang.

Min­sheng was not alone in iden­ti­fy­ing the gap in the mar­ket when on­line com­merce first boomed, and the com­pe­ti­tion is fierce. Liu staked his suc­cess on co­op­er­a­tion — iden­ti­fy­ing off­line re­sources, shar­ing whole­salers’ stor­age space and lo­gis­tics re­sources.

It runs several web­sites, such as xjms365.com and Xian­baza, which are both open to whole­salers and buy­ers. Last year, it sold 37 mil­lion yuan ($5.69 mil­lion) of farm pro­duce.

Even be­fore dawn brings an­other beau­ti­ful sum­mer day to Kash­gar, the city’s big­gest farm­ers’ mar­ket, Kuk­lan, is filled to the rafters, and hun­dreds of anx­ious farm­ers vie to sell their fruit and veg­eta­bles.

Ab­du­laen, 57, gets up at 2 am ev­ery­day to load his van with toma­toes and join the long queue to Kuk­lan mar­ket.

He needs to sell all of these ripe, plump toma­toes be­fore they turn bad in the sum­mer heat.

“If I can’t find a whole­saler, I have to dump them, so get­ting here early is very im­por­tant,” he said.

In the hus­tle and bus­tle of the mar­ket, some of the younger farm­ers seem more re­laxed.

Ali­ma­mat, 30, sells most of his cab­bages and toma­toes to e-com­merce com­pa­nies.

He owns six veg­etable sheds and packs up the veg­eta­bles ac­cord­ing to on­line or­ders. On a busy day, he can sell more than 400 kilo­grams of toma­toes and 280 kg of cab­bages.

“The or­ders are re­as­sur­ing. There are no big price fluc­tu­a­tions and hardly any of my veg­eta­bles rot in the field,” he said. Ali­ma­mat makes at least 100,000 yuan per year.

E-com­merce also em­ploys a lot of women in south­ern Xin­jiang, where, up un­til re­cently, it was the norm for girls to marry early and be housewives.

Rut­san­gul started work­ing with Saphola last year.

“I get 2,500 yuan a month — this is a good in­come for my fam­ily. The of­fice is near my home so I can still care for my 5-year-old son,” she said.

“I have taught many women in my vil­lage to use a com­puter.”

Lo­cated south of the Tak­li­makan Desert, most coun­ties in south­ern Xin­jiang are un­der­de­vel­oped, weighed down by poor in­fra­struc­ture and low ed­u­ca­tion lev­els. Ear­lier this year, Xin­jiang had 2.61 mil­lion peo­ple be­low the poverty line, 83 per­cent of whom lived in south­ern Xin­jiang.

Xin­jiang govern­ment made this area one of its top pri­or­i­ties in the anti-poverty bat­tle be­fore 2020. This year, the re­gional govern­ment will chan­nel money into huge projects, in­clud­ing ir­ri­ga­tion fa­cil­i­ties and roads all across south­ern Xin­jiang.

“On­line com­merce is not only re­shap­ing the way peo­ple shop, but is also hav­ing a pos­i­tive ef­fect on mod­ern agri­cul­ture and lives for peo­ple in south­ern Xin­jiang,” said Meng Yong­sheng, deputy direc­tor of the Eco­nomics Col­lege at Xin­jiang Univer­sity of Fi­nance and Eco­nomics.

The govern­ment and the com­pa­nies need to work to­gether to sup­port the in­dus­try and help the area to merge into the na­tional en­deavor to build­ing a new Silk Road, he said.

In the next five years, Min­sheng’s Liu Chao wants to dou­ble the num­ber of of­fices in south­ern Xin­jiang.

PHOTOS BY ZHAO GE / XIN­HUA

Kash­gar res­i­dent Deng Chun­juan shops at a veg­etable out­let di­rectly owned by Kash­gar Min­sheng E-com­merce Co in the city in the Xin­jiang au­ton­o­mous re­gion.

Work­ers of the Min­sheng com­pany de­liver goods from Kash­gar’s big­gest farm­ers’ mar­ket, Kuk­lan.

Ali­ma­mat works at one of his six veg­etable sheds in Shfu county, the Xin­jiang au­ton­o­mous re­gion.

Rut­san­gul works at an e-com­merce of­fice of Kash­gar Min­sheng E-com­merce Co.

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