During the Singles Day online shopping festival in November, Su Tian’s family received dozens of packages. However, as deputy director of the Development and Reform Commission of Northwest China’s Gansu province, he wishes the parcels would flow the other way, for people across China to buy his province’s agricultural products online.
A project of the Gansu government, in cooperation with the Asian Development Bank (ADB), is designed to solve the problem and, at the same time, use new technology to boost the productivity of agriculture.
The project aims to establish an efficient Internet-based agriculture services system by using technologies such as artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, big data and cloud computing. The system will be able to provide solutions in every step of agricultural production.
It has been approved by the State Council, China’s cabinet, with a total planned investment of 1.55 billion yuan ($246 million), including a $150 million loan from the ADB. The project will begin in October, and an environmental impact report and feasibility study have already started.
The Gansu Supply and Marketing Cooperative has also been working with the ADB since 2015 to promote Internet Plus agriculture, according to the cooperative’s deputy director, Qin Xiaoyang.
The concept of Internet Plus agriculture seeks to use information technology to clear hurdles faced by the industry, such as farmers’ insufficient information about production techniques and market conditions.
Gansu is a mountainous province with plateaus, valleys and parts of the Gobi Desert. It is suitable for growing fruit trees and some green vegetables, such as cabbage.
Building on these specialties, the Gansu-ADB project will establish agricultural demonstration bases, equipping high-value crop production systems with Internet of Things applications and software.
Logistics and distribution systems and a cold-chain preservation system will be updated or established to ensure that customers receive their purchases while products are still fresh.
“What is new about the system is that we can improve the communication between producers/farmers and consumers,” said Jan Hinrichs, an agricultural economist and leader of the ADB’s Gansu project.
“Before, we simply had market information for farmers; but now we will reduce the transaction cost, and we can inform consumers where the product came from and its certification.”
An agricultural information services platform will be set up to collect and process big data related to the project and to provide market information and agricultural support services to more beneficiaries, especially agricultural operators who lack market access and high-quality technical support.
A big data center for agricultural social services will be set up in Lanzhou, Gansu’s capital. The site will also serve as a training base for the project.
The integrated services platform for big data and information will cooperate with government websites, e-commerce enterprises and the Chinese Academy of Sciences to integrate agricultural social service resources in an open and inclusive manner.
Although the project is advancing steadily, Qin from the Gansu Supply and Marketing Cooperative said it faces some problems.
The cooperative has selected 11 companies and planting bases as the first experimental base to implement the Internet Plus concept. However, Qin said there is no standard for selecting projects, which can lead to a divergence of opinions among departments.
Also, the project involves many specialized fields and has high technical content. Qin said that if there is no technical support for implementing the project in the middle and later stages, producers may find it difficult to solve technical problems by themselves.
“For agriculture to be integrated with modern technologies, there will be a long process,” said Hinrichs. “But I think there is still potential.”