Zhang Jinpeng decided to return to his hometown in rural Shandong province to be nearer his family. Sensing an opportunity in agricultural e-commerce, he started an online store on Pinduoduo, China’s largest agriculture platform, to sell garlic.
Zhang’s hometown, Jinxiang County in southwestern Shandong province, is famous for its garlic. A total of 700,000 mu (467 square kilometers) of farmland is devoted to its cultivation and the region accounts for 70% of China’s annual garlic exports.
Zhang started the business literally in his own backyard, sorting and packaging the bulbs for dispatch to consumers. Business was slow initially, with 10 to 20 orders a day. Things picked up after Zhang put what he learned from Pinduoduo’s training courses into practice, and after a month of experimentation, sales shot up into the thousands.
By 2020, he handled 60,000 orders a day and shipped 30,000 tons of garlic a year. He moved out of his backyard into a 2,000-square-meter warehouse in a nearby village. Today, he employs 130 villagers to sort and package the garlic and paid out nearly four million yuan ($600,000) in wages last year.
Zhang’s story is one of a growing number of success stories of youths returning to their rural hometowns to set up agricultural e-commerce businesses on platforms such as Pinduoduo. In the process, these so-called New Farmers help to create wealth, well-paying jobs and aid in the modernization of the agriculture supply chain.
Many of these agricultural entrepreneurs operate on Pinduoduo, which started in 2015 as an online fruit vendor before eventually adopting a marketplace model connecting producers and consumers. The company waives the sales commission on agriculture-related transactions and holds regular promotional events to raise the profile of agricultural products being offered on the platform.
″The model of e-commerce has greatly shortened the circulation link of agricultural products, stabilized the purchase price, and increased farmers’ incomes,″ said Chen Wenkang, deputy mayor of one of Jinxiang County’s townships. ″E-commerce attracts a young workforce, who are attracted by the considerable income and find it convenient to take care of the elderly and children. By staying, these young people contribute to the development of their hometown.″
Agricultural e-commerce has added a domestic wing to the regional economy. Chen estimated that in the first six months of this year alone, more than 20 new e-commerce companies have set up in Buji Township, one of four townships in the county. The township has built an express distribution center to facilitate e-commerce deliveries.
Liu Cuilan, 59, is a smallholder garlic farmer who has boosted her income by working in her spare time at the warehouse operated by Zhang, the agricultural e-commerce merchant. Her daughter-in-law also works part-time at the warehouse and can earn enough so that they do not have to leave home to seek better employment prospects in the bigger cities.