Smart Technology Seen Driving Doubling of China’s $90 Billion Digital Agricultural Economy, Top Expert Says

pinduoduo agriculture competition
(Source: Pinduoduo)

Technology will help to more than double the size of the digital agricultural economy in China by 2025, providing fresh impetus for the country’s drive for agricultural modernization, according to a top agricultural expert. 

“Information technology has provided unprecedented driving forces for the development of agricultural modernization in China,” Zhao Chunjiang, Academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering said at the opening of the Smart Agriculture Competition co-organized by Pinduoduo. Zhao estimated that the current scale of China’s digital agricultural economy is about 600 billion yuan ($93 billion), and it is expected to double by 2025 to more than 1.2 trillion yuan.

Zhao is head of the judging panel at the Smart Agriculture Competition, an annual contest organized by Pinduoduo, China Agricultural University and Zhejiang University, with the aim of developing cost-effective smart agriculture technology suited to China’s agricultural conditions. This year, nutritional content and environmental sustainability have been added as key measures for evaluation in addition to yield and cost.

The organizers hope that this year’s tomato-growing event will inspire more youths to consider agriculture as a career and change the perception of farming as a labor-intensive and low-tech industry.

“We must give play to the characteristics of each link in the agricultural industry chain, from front-end production to back-end sales, and establish the entire smart agricultural technology system,” Zhao said. “We must adopt a systematic, technological approach to facilitate agriculture modernization. We will build up an entire smart agriculture system from upstream production to midstream logistics and then to downstream market access.”

(Source: Pinduoduo)

Fifteen teams were shortlisted from the hundreds of applicants for the competition, and presented their proposals to the judging panel over two days on Sept. 16-17. Four teams were selected for the final round, where they would proceed to implement their plans at Pinduoduo’s smart greenhouse base in Yunnan. 

In his presentation, Zhao cited the smart farming projects he worked on with Pinduoduo in Yunnan province. Pinduoduo and the National Engineering Research Center for Information Technology in Agriculture (NERCITA), the research institute headed by Zhao, have worked together on projects to standardize agricultural production and increase sales in poverty-stricken counties.

One such project in Yunnan’s Nujiang Lisu autonomous prefecture employs an automatic irrigation system and sensing equipment to raise agricultural production and reduce the amount of human labor involved. The application of agriculture technology cut the amount of pesticide use. According to local farmers, it now takes 16 months for the trees to bear fruit, down from three to four years previously.

Founded in 2015, Pinduoduo is unique among major consumer internet companies in China in making agriculture a strategic focus. To date, the company has connected more than 16 million farmers to its 850 million users, helping agricultural growers to widen their market and consumers to get fresher and lower-cost produce. 

Pinduoduo has been promoting the use of agricultural technology to boost productivity and environmental sustainability through a series of initiatives. The company was named a pioneer in digital agriculture at the 2020 World Digital Agriculture Conference for its pioneering work in integrating digital technology and modern agriculture.

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Last month, Pinduoduo announced the launch of a “10 Billion Agriculture Initiative” to galvanize the development and adoption of agricultural technology and reward agricultural sector workers. The initiative will adopt a long-term focus on capacity building for technology and human capital for agriculture, instead of focusing on profit and commercial returns.

“Agriculture is the foundation of the development of human society and the nexus of social welfare, security, health and environment sustainability, said Andre Zhu, Senior Vice President at Pinduoduo, “As China’s largest platform for agriculture, we want to contribute more to promote environmentally sustainable practices and help groom the younger generation to take part in agricultural modernization.”