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‘Taobao village’ cuts profits from turquoise

Mar 6, 2021 Excavator blog

WUHAN-Tapping the phone screen with her finger to send voice messages to customers, Guo Mingfeng has sold another handmade turquoise bracelet out of her home in Xiaying village, Hubei province.

“I can’t read or write, but it does not affect my business,” said 50-year-old Guo. She mainly sells handicraft products via images and voice messages on WeChat.

The craftswoman lives in a mountainous area of Yunxi county, Shiyan, Hubei. She used to be a tofu maker working from dawn to dusk year round, but could barely make enough money to support her children’s schooling and her sick parents. In 2014, she was put on the local poverty list.

In the same year, her village, known for turquoise reserves and online businesses selling the gemstone, was designated as a “Taobao village”. It is a title granted to villages with total annual e-commerce transactions of over 10 million yuan ($1.54 million).

They should also have more than 100 businesses, or at least 10 percent of households involved in e-commerce, as required by the title’s creator, Alibaba.

“Since some of my relatives profited from the industry, I thought maybe I could also give it a try. So I went back to my village,” she said.

Guo then learned from her brother-in-law how to polish and shape the stones and how to use a smartphone.

“My attempt has been a success. Though my hands have become calloused due to stone processing, I can earn around 200,000 yuan in profit every year,” she said.

The poverty rate of Yunxi county once stood at 32.7 percent of the population, and Xiaying was listed as one of the poorest villages in the county, according to Liu Tingzhou, Party chief of the village.

“Our turquoise industry was good, but poor transportation and internet access restricted the business in the mountains. Only a small number of villagers worked in the field,” said Liu, adding that turquoise e-commerce could be the solution to leading villagers out of poverty.

Liu organized free training courses for locals to learn how to do business online. They rebuilt roads and upgraded the village’s internet network.

In 2019, a 5G network extended there to help villagers sell goods via livestreaming.

“Step by step, our village changed, and it shook off poverty in 2017,” Liu said. In 2019, nearly 700 villagers engaged in e-commerce, running more than 500 online stores, and annual sales exceeded 200 million yuan.

As the turquoise resource is exhaustible, the village has mapped out a plan for the future.

“Our county is also a typical agricultural county with rich planting and animal-raising industries. E-commerce agriculture could be another solution,” Liu said.

With the help of the local government, e-commerce entrepreneurs provided more jobs for poor people and signed agreements to help farmers sell chicken, pork, tea, mushrooms, and honey across the country. In 2019, agricultural product sales accounted for more than 30 percent of the village’s e-commerce revenue.

Zhou Hua, a previously impoverished villager, has seen her income significantly increase since working in a local tea factory.

Zhou, 33, once worked as a waitress in a hotpot restaurant in downtown Shiyan, and her husband worked at construction sites. “We didn’t earn much and had to leave our son alone in the village,” Zhou said.

Both Zhou and her husband now work in the tea factory close to their home. Their family income can reach around 100,000 yuan a year.

“I am satisfied with my life. My wallet gets fatter, and the best thing is that I can accompany my son every day,” Zhou said. “I hope our days will be better in the new year.”