Why Alibaba rival Pinduoduo is investing in agritech

Back in 2018, the interactive e-commerce platform Pinduoduo  sent shock waves through the investor community when it raised $1.6 billion from a Nasdaq listing as a three-year-old company. Online shoppers in China were excited to see its rise as an alternative to longtime market dominators Alibaba and JD.com.

But the startup founded by former Google engineer Colin Huang has ambitions well beyond e-commerce. It’s answering the Chinese government’s call to modernize the country’s agriculture and bolster the rural economy.

Life in China has become highly digital in many facets, from retail and entertainment to education and healthcare. But agriculture remains an exception. A McKinsey report from late 2017 showed that agriculture was among the least digitized industries in China. Pinduoduo saw an opportunity in the gap and started life by selling fruits online. Over time it has grown into a comprehensive e-commerce platform rivaling Alibaba, but agriculture “has always been close to the heart of Pinduoduo since its inception,” said Pinduoduo’s senior vice president Andre Zhu.

“Investing in smart agriculture is an extension of what we do and guided by our goal of promoting digital inclusion.”

Instead of a standalone department, the firm’s agricultural endeavor is a company and even society-wide effort. Its strategy and investment team takes the lead to identify solutions targeting all stages of agriculture that the company can help scale up. At the implementation stage, the team might then tap its operational colleagues for contacts at various local governments and traditional farms that want to try the technologies.

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