October 5, 2023
BEIJING – A cooperative of 54 women is helping farmers in Hubei province and beyond, and at the same time improving members’ lives
Yao Lili always wears a hat when she operates a drone that sprays pesticides on her farmland in summer in Tianmen, Hubei province.
Standing on the edge of the land, Yao, 39, dexterously operates the drone while closely watching where it is heading.
“This drone can be of immense help to farmers, quickly completing the task of spraying pesticides,” says Yao, wearing a tan that comes by dint of working long hours in the sun.
Yao, a mother of two, is one of 54 drone operators who belong to a service cooperative that another villager in Tianmen, Jiang Minglan, set up. Yao’s family now owns two drones, she says. Her husband Xiang Qubo runs a small butcher’s shop in her village.
In addition to using drones to help local farmers spray pesticides, drone operators in the cooperative have traveled to Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, Henan province, and other places to spray pesticides for local farmers in recent months.
Jiang, who started her business after graduating from Wuhan Textile University in 2003, used to work in the agricultural industry outside her hometown.
She returned to Tianmen in 2015 and focused on promoting new and green plant protection technologies.
Two years later she was a pioneer in Tianmen in using drones to help spray pesticides and do related farm work.
“Many men have left the area to find employment elsewhere, and that has left a lot of left-behind wives in rural areas who have a lot of time on their hands,” she says.
“Operating intelligent plant protection drones is not that difficult, and with a bit of training the left-behind women are soon operating them.”
Soon after realizing what drones could do on farms, Jiang came up with the idea of setting up the women’s drone service cooperative.
“Being part of the cooperative not only allows women to take care of their families at home but also to increase their income.”
Liu Chang’e, a widow from a poor household in Luming village in Henglin township of Tianmen, says drones have made work easier for many farmers, and by operating drones for local farmers last year her family’s annual income was 70,000 yuan ($10,000).
Liu, who joined the cooperative in 2019, says she underwent drone operating training for a week, and after a month of practice she felt fully competent in flying them.
“Flying drones and promoting related new technologies in rural areas will help pull more and more farmers from poverty,” she says.
Jiang says she has trained 169 women drone operators, and by the end of last year, the cooperative’s drones had serviced more than 400,000 hectares of land across the country, covering more than 1 million households.
“Some of the women come from local poor families, and they had no other skills but have become skillful drone operators.”
The cooperative is now going all out to promote the drones for spraying pesticides, Jiang says.
“They not only help improve the prevention and control of plant diseases and insect pests but also save water and reduce the use of pesticides.”
Drones have provided rural women with work and also meant they can take care of children and the elderly at home, Jiang says.
The cooperative has more than 200 drones servicing nearly 67,000 hectares of farmland a year, covering between 60 to 70 percent of farmland in Tianmen, Jiang says. With more promotion, she says, she hopes her cooperative’s drones can cover all the townships and villages in Tianmen.
To this end, Jiang, a mother of two, says she plans to train up to five drone operators and establish a shared drone service station in every village to help local farmers become more efficient and increase their income.
She also hopes more and more of the cooperative’s members can take their services beyond Hubei in the months and years to come.