REAP­ING RICH HAR­VESTS ‘I show my life’

China’s farm­ers are rais­ing their for­tunes us­ing video-shar­ing apps as a sales tac­tic

Muscat Daily - - FEATURES -

“Do you want a piece?” bee­keeper Ma Gongzuo says, look­ing into the cam­era of a friend’s smart­phone be­fore bit­ing into the drip­ping comb of am­ber-coloured honey.

The clip goes out to his 737,000 fol­low­ers on Douyin, the Chi­nese ver­sion of pop­u­lar video shar­ing app TikTok that has 400mn users in the coun­try and has turned Ma into some­thing of a celebrity.

Cre­at­ing videos has be­come a pop­u­lar sales tac­tic for Chi­nese farm­ers: The clips show in­creas­ingly dis­cern­ing con­sumers the ori­gins of the prod­uct and pro­vide a win­dow into ru­ral life that cap­tures au­di­ence imag­i­na­tion.

For some it has helped them find a way out of poverty, which the rul­ing Com­mu­nist party hopes to erad­i­cate by 2020.

“Ev­ery­one said I was good for noth­ing when they saw I’d come back,” the 31 year old says of his re­turn to his vil­lage af­ter a failed at­tempt at run­ning an online cloth­ing busi­ness. “They tell us that we can only get out of poverty if we study and get a job in a city,” he adds.

Today, Ma drives an ex­pen­sive car and has al­ready earned enough to buy prop­erty and help his par­ents and fel­low vil­lagers with their homes and busi­nesses.

In 2015, Ma took on the fam­ily honey pro­duc­ing busi­ness in the ver­dant hills of Zhe­jiang prov­ince, and thanks to e-com­merce apps, man­aged to turn a yearly rev­enue of 1mn yuan (US$142,000).

But the sales be­gan to stag­nate. So in Novem­ber 2018, with help from his friends in the vil­lage, he be­gan post­ing videos about his life on the farm.

They showed him open­ing up a hive sur­rounded by a swarm of bees, swim­ming bare-chested in a river, and chop­ping wood.

“I never ad­ver­tise my prod­ucts. I show my daily life, the land­scapes of the coun­try­side. That’s what in­ter­ests peo­ple. Of course peo­ple sus­pect that I’m sell­ing honey. But they de­cide to get in touch with me to say they want to buy some.”

Like most trans­ac­tions in China, where hard cash is less and less pop­u­lar, the or­ders are paid through apps like WeChat or Ali­Pay. Ma says he now sells be­tween 2mn and 3mn yuan (US$285,000US$428,000) worth of honey each year, as well as dried sweet potato and brown su­gar.

“When I was young we were poor," he re­calls, adding: "At school I used to ad­mire other kids who had pocket money, be­cause I never had any.”

Now he drives a 4x4 BMW that cost around 760,000 yuan (US$108,000) and has also in­vested in build­ing a B&B.

“Us­ing Douyin, that was the turn­ing point,” he says.

“Today I can buy my fam­ily what they need. I help the other vil­lagers to sell their prod­ucts too. All of the lo­cal econ­omy ben­e­fits,” he ex­plains.

‘It’s progress’

In China, some 847mn ac­cess the In­ter­net via their smart­phone, so online apps have played a vi­tal role in Ma’s suc­cess.

“It’s progress,” his fa­ther Ma Jianchun says hap­pily. “We old peo­ple are over­whelmed. With the money, we've been able to ren­o­vate our house.”

China is home to the world's largest mar­ket for live video broad­cast­ing, ac­cord­ing to US au­dit firm Deloitte.

Get­ting in on the trend, Douyin’s par­ent com­pany ByteDance says it has or­gan­ised train­ing for 26,000 farm­ers on how to master the art of mak­ing videos.

There are other sim­i­lar plat­forms in­clud­ing Kuaishou and Yizhibo.

Taobao, the most pop­u­lar e-com­merce app in the coun­try and owned by tech giant Alibaba, launched a project in 2019 show­ing farm­ers how to be­come livestream­ing hosts in a bid to help them earn more.

The num­ber of peo­ple liv­ing un­der the poverty line in ru­ral China has re­duced dra­mat­i­cally - from 700mn in 1978 to 16.6mn in 2018, ac­cord­ing to gov­ern­ment fig­ures.

But the de­pop­u­la­tion of the coun­try­side con­tin­ues, as many Chi­nese head to cities in search of bet­ter-paid jobs.

"We want to be an ex­am­ple, to show young peo­ple that it is entirely pos­si­ble to set up a busi­ness and earn money in ru­ral ar­eas," ex­plains univer­sity-ed­u­cated Ma Gongzuo. “We hope that more will re­turn, so that life and the econ­omy can re­sume in the vil­lages.”

With his new­found fame, Ma says he has al­ready re­ceived many pro­pos­als. And not just from those in­ter­ested in his honey.

We want to be an ex­am­ple, to show young peo­ple that it is entirely pos­si­ble to set up a busi­ness and earn money in ru­ral ar­eas Ma Gongzuo

Chi­nese farmer Ma Gongzuo’s as­sis­tant (pic­tured hands) uses a mo­bile phone to take a video as Ma tastes honey at his api­ary in Songyang county in China's Zhe­jiang prov­ince

Ma Gongzuo chats with a fam­ily el­der at the en­trance of his home. Once poor, the api­arist has made his fam­ily home big­ger and now drives an ex­pen­sive car, thanks to the spike in in­come

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