Digital technologies give a leg up to pineapple business of south China’s Xuwen

A farmer loads pineapples onto a truck in Qujie township, Xuwen county, Zhanjiang, south China's Guangdong province, April 14, 2021. (Photo by Chen Diqing/People's Daily Online)

Xuwen county in Zhanjiang, south China’s Guangdong province, has a history of pineapple cultivation that goes back nearly 100 years. It is the largest pineapple producer in China.

This year, Xuwen pineapples became sensational on Chinese social media platforms. Short videos about the fruit have gained billions of views, and the county is visited by huge numbers of visits on holidays. The purchasing price of premium varieties has exceeded three yuan ($0.46) per kilogram.

Why can the Xuwen pineapples, which were non-impressive sales-wise, become a crowd-puller? What happened three years ago might answer the question.

In the spring of 2018, Xuwen embraced a big harvest of pineapples. However, the purchasing price of the traditional variety “bali” fell to 0.4 yuan per kilogram due to the sluggish pineapple market.

The county planted 350,000 mu, or 23,333 hectares of pineapples, and its annual production of the fruit accounted for 1/3 of China’s pineapple market. Even so, harvests were not turned into proportionate sales as a result of information asymmetry. Pineapples were always sold at a loss even in high seasons, and many of them just rotted in the fields.

To turn things around, Xuwen tailored for itself a three-year action plan, planning to build a big data bank, expand production and sales markets, and establish purchasing and sales alliances. Besides, it also invited outsiders to visit its pineapple production bases and sent its planters out of town to learn advanced experiences.

In early 2019, a working group was dispatched by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Affairs of Guangdong Province to the county to better solve the problems during its development.

“Pooling efforts from government, farmers, purchasers and distributors, and releasing purchaser index and purchasing price index, we have formed a synergy among the production, purchasing and sales sides,” said Li Xiaojun, leader of the working group, adding that e-commerce platforms also play a part in driving the sales of Xuwen pineapples.

Now, Xuwen’s pineapple growers are connected to the farming e-commerce marketplace “Yimutian” that displays the county’s pineapple production trends, purchasing, daily information and transport information. The e-commerce marketplace also gives the purchasing price of pineapples in major production areas across the country, as well as the sales price of the fruit in major Chinese whole-sale markets. In 2019, the purchasing price of bali pineapples reached 1.6 to 2.2 yuan per kilogram, with the premium ones being sold at 2.6 yuan per kilogram.

Facing new challenges brought by the sudden outbreak of the COVID-19 epidemic earlier  last year, Guangdong province worked to stabilize price, expanded direct purchasing channels, launched short video marketing activities, held online matchmaking meetings and employed influencer marketing strategies. As of the end of March, the sales volume of Xuwen pineapples had reached half of the county’s annual production, and even the immature fruits were ordered.

Big data enables the pineapple industry to find its direction, said Liu Zhijia, co-founder of Yimutian, adding that the technology gives clear information about sellers, buyers and price. According to him, a high-speed train route has been opened this year, linking Xuwen and the markets in northwest China, northeast China, central China and southeast coastal areas.

Due to limited level of standardization and commercialization of pineapple production, pineapples in Xuwen often rotted in poor weather. Today, thanks to standardized cultivation, the quality of the fruits is well controlled and every step of the production is traceable. Besides, the county has built sorting, warehousing, cold-chain and logistics facilities, which enables it to sell its pineapples to farther places, and even countries along the Belt and Road.

“The pineapples picked in the morning would be shipped at noon and put on the shelves and sold in the afternoon,” said Chen Guangli, executive vice mayor of Xuwen. Building both quality and brand, the county has lifted up its pineapple business from the bottom and made the fruits into a bestseller.

This spring, Xuwen was reached by over 1,000 purchasers. The county’s pineapple business has benefited around 50,000 rural households and 146,000 laborers. The deposit of pineapple growers across the county increased 980 million yuan ($151.55 million) and 1.26 billion yuan in 2019 and 2020, and each household there is expected to see an average income growth of 12,000 yuan this year.