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Litchi industry seeing success with smart agriculture efforts

By ZHAO YIMENG (China Daily)

Updated: 2022-08-31

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China released an action plan on rural construction in May, highlighting the use of big data in the industrial chains of key agriculture products.

E-commerce should be used to boost smart agriculture development and to ship related products to urban areas, the plan said.

This summer, Lingshan county, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, has taken advantage of the technology to move its products. Boxes of litchis were sent from the region to areas all over the country after taking part in a digital journey in which tech was used to grow, sort and package the fruit.

Wu Duoce, a digital agriculture technician, has been tracking the whole production process.

Last year, Wu and his team went to Lingshan, one of the largest litchi-producing areas in the country, to assist in the digital upgrading of the industry there.

Wu used digital devices to track and control the growth of the litchis. The process begins once trees begin to bear fruit.

Pest monitoring lamps help protect fruits from insects and diseases, and automatic irrigation systems enable growers to better control the amount of water and fertilizer used. Both devices can be operated remotely by smartphone apps, greatly improving efficiency and reducing labor costs.

"Usually the litchis grow naturally, but when tasks such as watering, fertilization and pest inspection are required, I will show up with my phone," Wu said.

Once the litchis ripen, they are sent to an intelligent sorting line, where a scanner can quantify the shape, size, sugar content, peel color and cracks in each fruit. Based on the information the scanner provides, the litchis are classified into five levels of quality and priced accordingly.

Previously, the litchis were sorted by workers without precise standards and could not be sold at their best prices. This year, the first-class litchi variety was sold at between 60 and 80 yuan ($8.90 to $11.90) per kilogram, Wu said.

After automatic weighing and preliminary packaging on the sorting line, the perishable fruits are sent to cold storage until their temperature drops to between 8 and 13 C. The litchis then go through secondary packaging to stay fresh and intact on their way to dining tables.

The Lingshan litchi industry has realized comprehensive digitalization throughout the whole process from production to sales. The digital program helped the industry produce high-quality fruit and become a regional brand.

"It's sweeter for me to help the locals earn more money than to eat a basket of litchis," said Wu, who has been working in tech giant Alibaba's rural department for five years.

"I started with boosting the capacity of rural e-commerce and gradually began working in the overall digital construction in rural areas."

In the past two years, Wu has visited more than 20 counties in Hainan province and Guangxi to gain a profound understanding of county-level industries, especially agriculture, and their needs to achieve digital transformation.

Wu now calls himself a digital agriculture technician, one of the 18 new professions recognized by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security on June 14.

A digital agriculture technician is a person who is engaged in the use, promotion and services of digital technologies applied in agricultural production and rural life, the ministry said.

The new profession reflects the digital transformation of agriculture in China, it added.

Like Wu, other digital agriculture technicians are playing important roles in digital construction in rural areas, where digital technologies have a broader application beyond agriculture.

Wu's future plans include using such technologies to combine agriculture and other industries.

"I have been thinking about how to build a digital countryside in part by integrating agriculture and rural tourism in a digital way," he said.