Not only are farmers using livestreams to showcase products to customers in the city, but the technology is also making the food system more trustworthy and transparent.
The lure of better opportunities and wages in cities has seen a mass migration from the Chinese countryside and rural populations plummet. As a result, the government is keen to promote and foster rural development in order to support China’s rural economy and provide economic opportunities for those left behind.
The popularity of short-form videos and livestreaming apps in particular has exploded in the past three years. Livestreaming is now not just a medium for millenials living in cities, but also a new and direct channel for enabling commerce between rural and city dwellers.
Livestreaming is an excellent example of how technology can help maintain a way of life. Not only does it allow farmers in the countryside to engage directly with potential buyers in the city: it also increases transparency and trust in the food supply chain.
Alibaba and JD have both launched livestreaming facilities on their e-commerce platforms, allowing merchants to broadcast directly from their stores and work with influencers to help market their products. The food section of both platforms features farmers and individuals all across China showcasing a particular product or ingredient. Scrolling through the list you can follow bamboo farmers in the south, mushroom hunters in the mountains, and pig breeders in the country’s heartland.
Inevitably, the quality of livestreaming tends to vary. Some streams are rough and shaky, while others employ a professional green-screen. But whether you’re a small business or an individual, livestreaming increases transparency and entices buyers to purchase food with a simple click, without having to leave their broadcast. Many farmers are avid livestreamers, measuring their performance in the number of viewers and comments, and figuring out different ways to make their product and livestream more interesting to potential buyers.
The distinction between e-commerce and entertainment is often blurry. Following the life of a rural pig farmer while you purchase some of his pork belly can be surreal. Often, too, you can chat directly with the farmer, take a tour of his chicken barn, or ask him to slice open some fruit to check its quality. You can even send him digital gifts, like flowers or heart emojis.
Alibaba’s e-commerce platforms have in the last decade launched a series of initiatives to create opportunities for farmers and people in over 16,000 villages across China. Employing slogans such as “Through Taobao, you can escape bitter days. E-commerce runs toward the road of happiness”, these initiatives transform rural areas into digitally-enabled commercial hubs, complete with local schools to teach basic knowledge and tools to sell products online, including via livestreaming. Moreover, there are now rural livestreaming professionals, hired by small and large food producers alike, to livestream from farms or production facilities and promote everything from honey to sausages.
This is a 12-part series on Food Megacity: how urbanization and technology are changing the way China eats. The full series can be found here.