newmediadev2009




Farmer's Mailbox in Zhejian


A. What is Farmer’s Mailbox

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Farmer’s mailbox is an IT tool that provide registered farmers market intelligence, agricultural information via the Internet and cell phone text message technology.

Farmer’s mailbox is initiated by Zhejian provincial government to the farmers in its rural areas. In 2009, registered farmers have exceeded 2 million.
The services provided are:

a. Market information
b. online agricultural exhibition
c. Online job market bulletin
d. Expert inquiry on agriculture issue problems (mostly on agricultural techniques)
e. Broadcast government information to individuals.



B. Why it is Implemented?

The major economic activity in Zhejian Province is agriculture. According to the Census Bureau of Zhejian Province in 2002, about 80% of the population of Zhejian is in agricultural sector.

In order to promote the agricultural sales and, Zhejian Agricultural Ministry initiated the project called “Farmer’s market” which adopts E-commerce techniques through the Internet and wireless technology to help the farmers do business online.


C. Who’s Carrying Out the Project? Who’s the Target Audience?


Users

The project is initiated by Zhejian’s Agricultural Ministry. It is under the framework of a Provincial Project—“Digital Zhejian Project,” which aims to modernizing primary industries (including farming, fishing, mining, etc) by adopting the use of Internet and computers tools in providing services and generating productions.

Zhejian Farmer’s mailbox project aims mainly at individual farmers, while other users include agricultural enterprises (association), agriculture technicians, etc. Farmers who wish to use the service and register for an account at the Agriculture Ministry local township/village office. After the account is activated, they can start using it.

Service provider
According to the website, the idea of creating an online agricultural service to farmers is initiated by Zhejian Provincial Government. The Agricultural Ministry of Zhejian Province is responsible for the management of the entire farmer’s mailbox service as well as the research and development of new service platforms.

Zhejian Mobile, a local branch of China Mobile, is the network service provider of farmers mailbox. Zhejia Mobile provides internet infrastructure and service, as well as wireless service for those using farmers market through cell phones. The wireless service include WAP (which enables cell phone to access the internet) and USSD (which enables cell phone users and service provider to interact with a text-message-like service). According to Zhejian Mobile website, there are about 14 million mobile users in zhejian province which accounts for 30% of the entire Zhejian Province population.


Funder

The creation of Farmer’s mailbox is part of the 11th National Five Year Plan to modernize agriculture and increase production; the major funder of the service is the Provincial Government. Currently, the service of farmer’s market is free for its users. Farmers can use computers and the Internet to access farmer’s mailbox online. These users will only need to pay the Internet connection fee. Those who do not have computers or the Internet can use farmer’s mailbox service at any computer stations in the village, town office. Users using wireless service to access farmer’s mailbox will need to pay connection fee.



D. How it is Implemented? To Educate Farmers.


In order to educate the farmers to use the service, the Agricultural Ministry has published several users manual for user education. The education is carried out in a hierarchical fashion. That is, the Provincial Government, the highest administrative body in Zhejian Province, will educate the special technicians of every city in the province.


E. How Does the Project Work?


The major goal for the Farmer’s Mailbox is to help modernize the agriculture and increase production by providing market information and agricultural techniques online. After applying for an e-mail account, the farmers can then access the market information online with their account. The market information includes demand of certain agricultural products inside and outside of Zhejian Province. Farmers can also post their product supply onto the market information site so that anyone who is in need of their products can contact the farmer directly through the e-mail or cell phone service.

Besides the basic market information and e-mail service of the Farmer’s Mailbox, Zjejian Agricultural Ministry has developed other services on the website to further facilitate e-commerce and information service for farmers. These services include:

a.
**Online Agricultural Exhibition**
The Online Agricultural Exhibition site is the virtual agricultural product farmers’ market online. There are many virtual buildings on the website, and each building is the “exhibition hall” for different kinds of products. Farmers of each agricultural product can apply for a virtual booth for their produce in the buildings according to the category of the product. After applying for the booth (which is a web page of their own product), the farmers can upload the information of the product on to their exclusive page. The information may include photos and description, quantities and location of the products, contact information of the farmer or seller as well as the price.

Buyers can then clink into the different buildings and browse through all the different booths for the products of their preference and contact the sellers immediately.
The Online Agricultural Exhibition Platform provides both farmers and buyers an easier way to do business online. The cost of the virtual exhibition and business transaction is lower than the real farmers’ market.


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b. **Online job search**
The online job market search website provides users the platform to post and search for job openings in any parts of China. Employers can post the information of their job openings, job description, salaries and contact information onto the platform. Job seekers can then browse through all the postings or search jobs in a particular sector or city with the search engine in the platform. This will help to solve the unemployment in the rural areas in Zhejian and promote labor flow.


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c. **Daily FAQ**

Daily FAQ is the service provided to the Farmer’s Mailbox wireless users. The Farmer’s Mailbox Administrator will send out text messages to the subscribed users daily messages including agricultural tips, featured product market intelligence (demand and supply of the product), and special agricultural events and sales in the province. The service is free for the subscribers. Individual users can also upload their product demand/supply information, and the system administrator will selectively chose to broadcast the information to the message subscribers.


F. Evaluation & Users' Response


During to limited capacity, our evaluation of the project has to be based on sporadic telephone interviews with farmers who use the system. The feedback we got is far from representative, yet still we still believe it can be used as reference for those interested in the field.

Among the farmers we interviewed is Jinde Chen, a 51 year old who grows oranges and has been using the farmer’s mailbox system since 2007. He mainly uses the system as a source of market information and also puts up advertisement on the website. Update of the website, according him, has been “pretty frequent.” “Customers come to me quite quickly once the ad is in, and business has been much easier.” said Chen.

Chen’s sales volume is up over 40% after using the system, and income level is also up by 30%. He’s “generally satisfied” with the use of “Farmer’s Mailbox.”

Mr. Dai, 27, said the system is not as effective as some other non-government sponsored websites. The “Farmer’s Mailbox” system brings him less customers than those private websites that offer similar service. Dai also feels those government sponsored projects is less efficient – sometimes he has to wait weeks before his advertisement is approved by the administrator. Whereas with the private websites, approval takes only one day or less.

Another frustration with using the system, according to Dai, is fraud information. Sometimes when he calls those who claim to sell certain goods, the answer is often “we don’t have it any more.”