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E-Learning for Better Harvest
A boom in paid online education for farmers creates new opportunities for startups
By Ge Lijun | VOL.11 November ·2019-11-11

Farmers can access information about the latest agricultural trends on their smartphones (HELLORF)

Ding Liangsheng knew that mid-August was the best time to start planting strawberries. There was only one problem: He had no idea how to do it. No one around him, in his hometown of Changsha, south China’s Hunan Province, had ever tried cultivating strawberries before. But he could not let go of the idea: He had heard that strawberries could bring good profits. He bought seeds and started looking for a solution on the internet.

Following a tip from a friend, he downloaded a mobile app called Tiantian Xuenong(Which means ”learning agriculture every day”). On it, he found exactly what he needed: a short three-minute video created by a strawberry growing expert.

“This video was very useful to me. So I decided to continue studying new techniques of growing strawberries from it,” Ding told ChinAfrica. He then found a comprehensive four-hour course, available for 99 yuan ($13.86). He noticed that more than 45,000 people had already taken this online course. The reviews were good, and Ding did not hesitate to sign up for the course.

According to its founder Zhao Guang, Tiantian Xuenong aims to provided standardized services to farmers. “For example, there are common problems concerning the cultivation of citrus, kiwi and grapes. Through the platform, we hope to identify these problems and provide solutions for farmers,” Zhao said.

Other mobile apps, such as Kuaishou, Nan Niwan and Bee TVs, have also launched similar services. Gradually, teaching farmers how to sow, grow and reap better harvest has become a new trend.

High enthusiasm

For Xu Ming, who teaches how to grow maize on the Kuaishou platform, educational videos offer valuable opportunities for young farmers. Contrary to the stereotype of “poor student” often associated with them, young people in rural areas are very excited about learning. The 2019 Report on Township Youth published by Kuaishou shows that the popularity of educational videos among rural youth is eight times higher than their urban peers.

About 140 million out of Kuaishou’s 200 million daily users come from small towns, 70 percent of whom are under 30 years of age. According to Li Zhuo, Operational Director at Kuaishou, educational resoureces in these areas are relatively scarce, which makes it difficult to meet their learning needs. Agricultural and vocational training courses fill the gap.

For around 100 yuan ($14), and sometimes even less that 10 yuan ($1.4), people can sign up for the course of their choice. According to official data, about 10,000 teachers are active on the Kuaishou platform and the number of students paying for courses has now reached about 6 million.

“Our platform includes nearly 2,000 senior agricultural experts, and although some courses often last more than 75 minutes, there are many users,” Tu Zhijun, Education Manager at Kuaishou, told National Business Daily.

In fact, in recent years, China has put in place a series of measures in policy and financial support, to promote high-quality development of agriculture. While urbanization has made it possible to assimilate surplus rural labor, villages have also accelerated the transfer of land use right, thus laying a good foundation for efficient agricultural practices.

“The transfer of land use rights has led to a significant change: Farmers are more willing to consider agriculture as a long-term for-profit activity,. For example, they are now considering whether to grow more organic products, since that’s what the market wants. This change has also brought many opportunities for startups in the area of education,” said Zhang Yunxiang, Partner and Founder of Topsailing Capital, a Chinese investment company.

Opportunities for startups

In many first- and second-tier cities in China, paid knowledge platforms are already very popular and competition is fierce. Farmers previously did not have continuous access to high-quality agricultural knowledge. They are more than willing to pay for this knowledge, as new techniques can directly increase their income.

To gain access to new technologies, farmers often depend on two sources. First, they can rely on those who sell pesticides and chemical fertilizer in their villages. But more often than not, theses trader’s knowledge is outdated and simplistic, and they are unable to provide innovative solutions. Also, farmers can request for assistance from the agricultural technicians based in their villages. However, as most of the technicians have graduated from agricultural colleges and have never really worded in the fields, they lack practical experience.

Therefore, according to Zhao, following the modernization of the Chinese agricultural industry, farmers need more professional skills and knowledge in farming, but cannot be met. Currently, China has 260 million farmers working in rural areas. But there is no one who is able to provide them with the knowledge or skills they require. This is exactly what mobile apps like Tiantian Xuenong want to do, by seizing the opportunity offered by this rising market.

The innovative learning platforms have also attracted the interest of investors. “In recent years, China has vigorously promoted the vocational training of new types of farmers. Farmers have a high demand for high-quality agricultural content, so the model of paid agricultural education is quickly being adopted by some Internet plat forms, such as Tiantian Xuenong,” Peng Guoti, a partner of Changce Investment, told 36Kr.

Born in the 1980s, Zhao launched Tiantian Xuenong only two years ago, but he is optimistic about the future. “Date shows that the market for agricultural technology services will soon reach 100 billion yuan ($14 billion). In addition, education about agricultural technology, products and market also has great potential,” he explained.

Recently, Kuaishou announced the launch of an online channel to support agricultural experts and encourage them to solve some of the problems faced by farmers.

“The revitalization of rural talent is the key to the revitalization of villages. We hope that an increasing number of farmers will be able to use short videos to bridge the information gap and that more creators will be able to join our platform. Short videos and live broadcasts are all tools that can be used for poverty reduction, e-commerce promotion and economic development in rural areas,” said Tu.

(Comments to glj@chinafrica.cn)

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