E-Commerce Can End Rural Poverty in China
E-commerce has the power to end rural poverty in China. In 2014, about 100 out of 640 households in Kengshang were on a list for having annual incomes of less than $400. The rural Chinese village in Anhui province had been in poverty for years. This is due to a shortage of farmland and geographical isolation. Most villagers made their living by growing tea but the working population decreased every year as people left to find jobs.

In 2015, the district’s commerce bureau invested $31,000 in Kengshang. This involved setting up a workshop to train the villagers and renovating a school building. The villagers sold dried bamboo shoots in small decorative bags, which the poverty-alleviation team then sold online. All of the profits went directly to the villagers. The annual revenue from the online shops in 2020 was about $123,870, up from $23,226 in 2016. By 2016, the Chinese government deemed the village of Kengshang poverty-free.

E-Commerce in China

Kengshang is one of many success stories in poverty alleviation thanks to e-commerce in China. E-commerce is the buying and selling of goods over the internet. It allows more people to access potential global markets for their products, which can help reduce poverty by opening up a new avenue of income for the impoverished. It has been especially effective for those facing rural poverty.

E-commerce in China is a robust industry for rural communities. All 832 state-level impoverished counties have e-commerce programs to alleviate poverty. In 2019, 13.84 million rural e-commerce shops existed. The shops registered total online sales of about $8.02 billion in the first quarter of 2020, up 5% from 2019.

The Alibaba Group, an e-commerce giant, launched the Rural Taobao Program in 2014 to help give rural citizens better access to the internet and help farmers increase their income by selling agricultural products directly to urban consumers online. It does this by setting up e-commerce service networks in counties and villages and improving logistical connections for villages. It also provides training in e-commerce and entrepreneurship and develops rural financial services through the AntFinancial subsidiary of Alibaba. The Rural Taobao Program has expanded rapidly, from 212 villages in 12 counties in 2014 to more than 30,000 villages in 1,000 counties in 2018.

The Chinese government has invested in improving the existing e-commerce system. In the future, the government plans to improve infrastructure in rural areas to smooth urban-rural trade channels, especially for agricultural products. Third-party delivery services, improved rural logistics systems and the cultivation of local brands will support agricultural products.

Eliminating Poverty in China

E-commerce in rural provinces has helped China eliminate rural poverty nationwide. In November 2020, President Xi Jinping announced that all rural citizens were living above the centrally-defined poverty line of about $400 a year. While this is still below the internationally recognized poverty line of $700 a year, it is an impressive feat thanks to strategies like e-commerce in rural areas. In the future, the growing industry of e-commerce has the potential to bring all rural Chinese people above the international poverty line.

E-Commerce During COVID-19

During the COVID-19 pandemic, e-commerce has become even more important. Online ordering and no-contact delivery give rural communities a source of income that does not risk their health. Despite disruptions due to shutdowns, Taobao, an e-commerce platform, saw merchants sell 160% more products in March 2020 than in 2019. PinDuoDuo, another e-commerce company, has boosted daily orders to 65 million, compared to 50 million before the pandemic.

Looking Forward

With sustained development and investment, e-commerce has the potential to end rural poverty in China. The Chinese government needs to invest in the workers by providing entrepreneurship training, helping them establish an online presence and creating the necessary infrastructure to help them sell their products online. That way, e-commerce can be a long-term solution.

Other countries can learn from China’s e-commerce model. While China’s success comes in part from the extensive government involvement in the lives of individual citizens, other nations can still take note of the booming e-commerce industry. Investments in e-commerce development programs have the power to help end rural poverty in China.

– Brooklyn Quallen
Photo: Flickr