China’s President, Xi Jinping, is drafting legislation to revitalise the country’s rural areas, as part of his plan to make China a strong, modern country by 2050. China is divided into prosperous, urbanised cities and rural areas affected by environmental degradation, significantly lower incomes and poor living standards.

The government wants to focus on strengthening rural areas instead of continuing to prioritise economic growth in urban areas. The leader’s aim is to “build a modern, socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced and harmonious” to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China in 2049. The hope is that by creating legislation for the movement, the work will continue even if the people within the ruling party changes.

The government will implement its campaign by first of all creating an institutional and governance framework by 2020. The second stage is to modernise rural areas and agriculture by 2030. Finally, it aspires to realise “all aspects” of the revival by 2050 in order to complete the project.

Respecting the environment will be a key part of the work, with many admitting that the country’s bullish industrialisation work has led to damage and destruction to its rural areas. Low scale IT approaches could help reduce environmental damage and promote regeneration. Supporting communities, agricultural practises and farmers will be a key part of the transformation. Previously, many farmers have had to leave their families and livelihoods in search of factory work or similar in the cities. By supporting the rural economy, the country hopes to significantly improve incomes and living standards, so that families can live comfortably in the countryside in the decades to come.   

Part of the central government’s innovation-centred strategy to eradicate poverty, is to educate rural people about the power of e-commerce, and linking buyers and sellers directly. Entrepreneur Liu Youjuan was living in rural poverty when she identified an opportunity to create a business from flowers. Planting her first chrysanthemums seeds four years ago in her village, she has been growing and selling golden chrysanthemums in the Fugang village of Tiemengang township in Macheng of Hubei province ever since.

Whilst having a modest customer base by 2016, Youjuan approached her local government for a grant to help set up her business online. She created online stores on Taobao and WeChat, as well as on a local e-commerce platform. Youjuan developed her business acumen and now sells golden chrysanthemum tea. Her business is helping lift her surrounding community out of poverty too, as she employs people from 15 households in the area. Youjuan has said: “I was part of the impoverished group, and most of my employees are the elderly who were left behind in rural areas. So I feel it is my duty to help them.”

Technology is helping to transform rural agricultural practises too. Chinese food safety is a big issue, which is why companies such as Tencent and Alibaba have partnered with farmers to create AI systems to monitor farm animals. Using the Internet of Things (IoT), AI helps farmers to keep track of vital signs in their livestock. Using algorithms, the animal protection technology can predict diseases in animals, which would make them unsafe to eat. It can also monitor their weight, general health and even their pregnancies.

Technology is helping save costs in agriculture too. Using image processing AI algorithms, farmers are able to identify problem areas during harvests, as well as low or high humidity areas which might need urgent attention. Drones can then be used to either repair areas, or to spray water and pesticides only on the areas that need it. Agritech drone company, XAG, is a leader in this field. Its latest P-series crop protection drones spray around 35 acres of land in one hour, saving the farmer days’ worth of their time. This kind of innovation requires investment, and luckily, provincial governments are supporting communities by helping to subsidise costs – by as much as 50% in some cases.

There is still a long way to go with these initiatives, but with the government’s ambitious plans driving the change, China’s rural transformation offers affected communities’ seeds of hope.  

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