Extension of parcel delivery network in China bears fruit for farmers

Farmers are becoming wealthier as improved logistics convenience boosts sales of agricultural produce.


A retailer (left) sells sweet potatoes online with farmers in Neiqiu county, Hebei province, in October. (LIU JIDONG / XINHUA)

January 28, 2022

BEJING – Receiving orders online, picking citrus fruit from the trees and sending the goods to parcel delivery stations: This is the daily work routine of farmer and promoter Zhang Furong, who lives in a village in Southwest China’s Sichuan province.

But less than eight months ago, the 28-year-old was working as an internal inspector in a cubicle at PwC, a global accounting and auditing company, in Chengdu, the provincial capital.

In May, she quit her white-collar job and returned home to help her family sell their fruit. Last year, the citrus trees in the family orchid bore fruit for the first time, six years after they were planted.

That same month, a parcel station was opened in Zhengshankou village, Zhang’s hometown, which was a catalyst to help her sell the fruit.

“The facilities have been improved in the village in many respects, such as the new parcel station. We used to make deliveries and pickups in Duoyue township, which is far away and more expensive. In the past, the station was usually crowded and customers always had to wait in line,” she said, adding that the road has been sealed and the village now has access to the internet.

In the past, local fruit growers relied on selling their produce to dealers who visited the village, but they rarely had the leverage to bargain over the sums they were paid. With the boom of e-commerce, some pioneers began to sell their fruit online, receiving a higher price, but the inconvenient logistics system remained a challenge until the parcel station opened in the village.

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Livestreaming hosts sell strawberries at a farm in Tangshan, Hebei province, last month. (MOU YU / XINHUA)

Zhang started by selling her fruit on WeChat, before moving on to other produce. To ensure good quality, Zhang heads to the parcel delivery station immediately after the fruit has been picked and sends it to customers nationwide. The customers usually receive their orders within three days.

Like her home, Zhang’s orchards are close to the station, and even from the most distant orchard, it takes less than 10 minutes for her to ride there on her electric bike.

“We just place the basket at the station and ‘big sister’ Zhang (a station employee) helps us wrap the fruit and make the delivery. Sometimes when I am busy and my father picks and sends the fruit, I just text big sister Zhang and she helps my father finish processing the delivery,” Zhang Furong said, adding that the procedures are very easy.

She began to sell homegrown tangerines on WeChat in October. They sold surprisingly well. She quickly sold out of tangerines from the family orchid, so she started to help her neighbors sell their fruit online for a commission.

“My neighbors are very happy because I sell at a better price online, and the fruit dealers often offered lower prices,” she said, adding that her neighbors still earn more, even after she takes her commission.

Zhang Furong earns extra money and her neighbors get a better price for their goods: It is a win-win solution for everyone, and now she makes more money than when she dealt with numbers at PwC, formerly known as PricewaterhouseCoopers.

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Online retailers sell goods for Spring Festival during a broadcast from a village in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, on Jan 15. (XU YU / XINHUA)

Better lives

Like Zhang Furong and her neighbors, many farmers in rural areas have gained a new path to wealthier lives thanks to the expansion of the parcel delivery network to the rural areas.

Last year, China’s various logistics companies handled 108.5 billion parcels, with 37 billion of them sent from and delivered to rural areas, more than 30 percent of the total. The combined value of the products in the packages sent from and to the rural areas was more than 1.85 trillion yuan ($291 billion).

The expansion of the network has boosted the movement of industrial goods from urban to rural areas and also facilitated the transportation of agricultural produce from rural to urban areas, said Ma Junsheng, director of the State Postal Bureau of China, the parcel delivery industry’s regulator, at a news conference in August.

The development has attracted the attention of the top authorities and has been written into the nation’s 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25).

In July, at an executive meeting of the State Council, China’s Cabinet, Premier Li Keqiang reiterated that the government will improve the delivery logistics system in rural areas.

As part of efforts to advance rural vitalization, the move aims to further facilitate the flow of agricultural produce to urban households and consumer goods to rural areas.

Since 2014, China has carried out a campaign to boost deliveries in rural areas. All county-level regions and 98 percent of towns now have access to express delivery services.

The efforts have mainly been focused on the “last mile”-that is, from townships to villages.

Last year, the bureau launched a three-year campaign to expand the network to a deeper grassroots level by sending parcels to villages.

The campaign quickly bore fruit. By the end of last year, more than 80 percent of villages had access to parcel delivery services. In East China’s Yangtze River Delta region, in places such as Zhejiang province and Shanghai, the network has already been extended to all villages.

The bureau plans to extend the network to all villages nationwide by the end of this year, according to its annual conference this month.

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Employees load packages in Xi’an, Shaanxi province, last month. (SHAO RUI / XINHUA)

Booming sector

The nation’s parcel delivery business has boomed in the past decade, along with the e-commerce sector.

“China has established a parcel delivery network extending to rural and urban areas across the country and connecting with the world, serving millions of users a day,” Chen Kai, the bureau’s deputy head, said.

“The service, linking millions of households, has become an inseparable part of people’s lives. The network covers all counties and townships, and it is being extended to villages. More and more farmers have become richer thanks to the development of the network.”

Wang Yuehan, an associate researcher with the bureau’s development and research center, said, “The expansion of the parcel delivery network has further met the production and living needs of rural residents and constantly triggered the consumption potential in rural areas.”

In the past, many of the network’s benefits involved rural residents enjoying high-quality commodities when they purchased online and received orders from the urban areas.

Conversely, the expansion of logistics services in rural regions has proved effective at selling agricultural produce from rural to urban areas, also via the online shopping system. The development facilitates the government’s strategic policy of rural revitalization.

Last year, 40 varieties of produce, including seafood from Rizhao in Shandong province, green tea from Xinyang, Henan province, and kiwi fruit from Xianyang, Shaanxi province, sold well online, with more than 10 million parcels sent across the country.

Agricultural produce, which can move more than 10 million parcels a year, is labeled “golden projects” by the State Postal Bureau to illustrate how parcel delivery services facilitate modern agriculture. The country now has 100 such projects.

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Workers move packages at a China Post facility in Zhengzhou, Henan province, last month. (ZHANG HAORAN / XINHUA)

Data-driven research

Xu Liangfeng, deputy director of the data management department of the bureau’s safety center, has led a team to collect parcel delivery data and draw up a map-like database demonstrating the tracks of agricultural produce sold to cities.

Different types of agricultural produce are dotted on the map, such as mangoes from Baise county, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, and rice from Heilongjiang province in Northeast China.

When an icon is clicked, such as the one for Baise’s mangoes, information about the fruit and parcels delivered is shown on the screen, including time of harvest, the number of parcels delivered in the year and each month, as well as a monthly graph.

“We aim to take more advantage of data to save time for inspections and to make parcel delivery faster and safer,” Xu said, adding that having collected the data, the next step is to use it to boost the industry’s development.

“The map aims to facilitate the solution to the last mile problem to expand the network to villages. In the next step, we will continue to refine the map of agricultural produce with local characteristics, producing a map with more detailed information,” he said.

Xu and his team will also continue to promote data synergy of the last mile problem, he added.

The map is a result of a big data platform that was established by the bureau in 2009. It traces, monitors and collects information about each parcel, user and courier. The platform aims to analyze the industry via real-time data and provide a better service.

“It serves as the industry’s ‘brain’ to monitor and analyze the operation of parcel delivery services in China,” Xu said. “Thanks to the platform, we can easily tell that one-third of parcels are sent to rural areas.”

Last month, Zhang Furong, the citrus fruit grower, sent a package of produce to a customer in Xi’an, Shaanxi, marking the nation’s 100 billionth parcel delivery last year.

She has become an online celebrity and has been dubbed “the 100 billionth parcel girl”. “It feels like I have been given a big cake unexpectedly. I will make use of the fame to make more money and have a better life,” she said.

The nation’s parcel delivery sector has set a goal of handling more than 150 billion parcels by 2025. With development targets at such a high level, the expanded network will benefit more farmers like Zhang Furong.


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