Computers and the web take the place of donkey carts in Kashgar
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 Donkey carts are now a rare sight in the city, they have been replaced by something a bit more 21st century — computers.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.
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.