Wu Wenjing ruined her gel manicure on her first day working on a farm. Wu and two other classmates from China Agricultural University were stationed at a village on the outskirts of Beijing, one of 500 villages in a national program to help farmers adopt technology and improve their agricultural practices.
Over the course of a year, Wu’s team helped the farmers to switch to more profitable crops. They installed an integrated system to handle irrigation and fertilization, set insect traps to reduce chemical pesticide use, and put up equipment to monitor climate conditions inside greenhouses. The result was a 330% increase in earnings for the farmers.
Pinduoduo, a Chinese agricultural e-commerce platform, is a supporter of the initiative, which has placed students majoring in agronomy in 135 major agricultural production areas across the country.
Across the country, small groups of agronomy students are embedded with rural communities across the country to experience agriculture as it is practiced and to solve problems.
Transforming book knowledge into practical application has been a key aspect of Pinduoduo’s work in agricultural technology.
The company organizes the Smart Agriculture Competition, an annual contest that challenges researchers to devise effective and practical technology for small-scale farmers.
The competition has served as a bridge for industry and academia into helping smallholder farmers embrace digital innovation. It has also become a proving ground and launching pad for promising agricultural technology developed by aspiring students.
For many students like Wu, going to the countryside and applying what they have learnt in the classroom has been a life-changing experience.
"I have never lived in the countryside before, and I have never farmed or earned money,” she said. “In the past year or so, I have found that farming is far more complicated and difficult than I imagined, but in the end we made money for the village. The money shows that our professional knowledge has not been learned in vain, and I have a great sense of accomplishment."
Zhang Fusuo, the academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering and director of the expert committee of the initiative, said the program plays an important role in sustainable agricultural development. It also helps with the personal growth of graduate students by giving them first-hand experience of the conditions that agricultural producers work under.
For Wu’s team, the next step is to help the villages with the construction of a cold-storage warehouse. They also plan to look into ways to improve post-harvest logistics, expand brand awareness, as well as tap on online sales as a distribution channel to help the farmers sell to a bigger pool of customers.