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Store Opens Farmers' Eyes

Deep in the heart of Shuangliu County, Sichuan Province, farmers and villagers are waking up to the wonders of the information revolution.

A new 50 sq m supermarket in Yangping Village, selling grocery items and necessities in its two aisles, initially seems no different from your local store, save offerings of farming tools and agricultural wares like chemical fertilizer.

It is a computer terminal set up in front of the store, complete with a front desk and a website catering exclusively to farmers, that is making waves in the community and becoming for villagers a window to the IT world.

The website provides information on employment, starting businesses and agricultural training.

It is believed to be the first of its kind in the country serving just farmers, said website mastermind Jing Ming.

Villagers can register at the front desk to book train and air tickets, buy motorcycles, and pay phone, water, electricity and gas bills.

Li Jinqiang, a middle-aged farmer, told China Daily that almost all the 200-plus households in the village are excited with the new supermarket.

"We used to travel a long distance to the nearest town to buy chemical fertilizer and to book a train ticket. Thanks to the supermarket, life is much easier," he said.

His neighbor, Xie Jie, 54, agreed.

"I thought it was very difficult to book a train ticket during peak travel seasons. But after I booked a trip to Beijing during the National Day holiday, I got my ticket two days later through the computer," she said.

Called Supermarket for New Farmers in the 21st Century, the store was launched by a group of university students who have either graduated or are still in school, in Chongqing Municipality, Sichuan and Jiangsu provinces.

With an average age of 22, the students started the supermarket on September 28 after living in villagers' homes in the county for two months.

"We realized farmers were inconvenienced by a lack of such services," said 31-year-old Jing, a graduate from Jiangsu.

Apart from the computer and front desk, a three-storey building next to the supermarket, called Club for New Farmers, offers a library, two Internet-enabled computers and a clinic.

Liu Chaoxue, 20, told China Daily the club is popular with youngsters because they can read magazines and surf on the Net instead of loitering around previously.

Following the Yangping store, another similar outfit has opened in Kunshan Village in Jinqiao Town.

Shuangliu County official Xie Huiwu said the authorities support the expansion of such stores and hopes to bring the number of supermarkets to 30 by the year end.

Jing said he is trying to get support from the Ministry of Commerce to include the stores in a plan to help out 10,000 villages.

"Our goal is to build 10,000 chain supermarkets nationwide," he said.

(China Daily November 13, 2007)

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