The Central Cyber Commission of China and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs’ Department of Market and Informatization jointly released the China Digital Village Development Report on 01 March 2023. In addition to these organizations, China Agricultural University, the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology, and Renmin University of China contributed to the report.
Since the release of State Council’s Digital Village Development Strategy in 2019, there has been a lot of progress achieved in the development of digital villages, according to the document. Presenting itself as a reference document for practitioners, the report provides a summary of the main achievements in 2022 with regards to progress in rural industries, talent cultivation, culture, ecology, and organizational governance.
1. Improvements in digital village infrastructure
According to the report, the number of rural netizens has reached 293 million and rural internet coverage reached 58.8% by June of 2022. The number of 5G stations in China reached 1.9 million, covering 96% of counties and towns in the country.
2. Progress in smart agriculture
The report states that overall informatization of agriculture in China reached 25.4% as of 2022. The informatization rate is a comprehensive indicator, including the use of digital technology in production, harvest, processing, retailing, and data management.
2.1 The report states that China has been the first country in the world to establishe a “national seed identification information system”. The system can track and share information regarding various seeds.
2.2 According to the report, large-scale crop farming reached an informatization rate of 21.8% in 2021. Wheat, rice, and cotton have the highest informatization rates with 39.6%, 37.7%, and 36.3% respectively. “Digital farming + digital machinery” experimental fields expanded to 150,000 mu (10,000 ha) in 2022. Initial results showed that the use of digital farming and machinery had helped increase production by 14.3%/ mu, raise revenue by 500 RMB/ mu, and decreased nitrogen fertilizer use by 32.5%/ mu. Phosphorous use had decreased by 16.8%/ mu, while other agro-chemicals had been reduced by 38%/ mu.
2.3 The informatization rate of animal farming reached 34% in 2021, with a rate of 36.9% for the pork sector and 36.4% for the poultry sector. It improved the labor productivity by 30% and lowered the cost of production per pig by 150 RMB.
2.4 The informatization rate for fishery and aquaculture was 16.6% in 2021.
2.5 Digitalization of cultivated land and state (military) farms has been strong. State farms are using 8,300 machines with Beidou navigation system, covering 60 million mu (4 million ha). These results are especially significant in Heilongjiang province, which is home to large state farms. One of the biggest state farms, Beidahuang Group, registered additional revenue from its digital operations of 8.7 billion RMB in 2021.
2.6 Digitalization of agri-machinery: The precision rate of the Beidou navigation system enhanced from between 5-10 m in 2018 to between 2-5 m in 2022. More than 490,000 machines now use Beidou, collecting 20 billion pieces of machinery data. Unmanned agri-machinery in China reached 121,000 and is used on a area of 1 billion mu (66,7 million ha) of farmland.
2.7 Rural data management: spatial maps of farmland, ecological protection zones, and urban development boundaries were enhanced.
3. Digital village new economy
3.1 E-commerce: The rural e-commerce volume in China reached 2.17 trillion RMB in 2022, an increase of 3.6% compared to the previous year, and more than 2,600 experimental logistics centers in 1,489 counties were established. More than 80% of the villages have access to the e-commerce delivery network, which handled a total of 37 billion pieces of goods in 2021. E-commerce has also played an important role in poverty alleviation, with more than 20,000 online sellers joining the “832 platform” (832 refers to the 832 previously poverty-stricken counties in China) and generating revenue of 13.6 billion RMB in 2022, an increase of 20% year-on-year.
3.2 New rural industries: The increasing prevalence of digital technology is enabling village tourism and accommodation sharing, bringing new income channels to rural residents. A specifically developed “village tourism” app now offers 681 tour routes and 2,500 sites. 11.2 million rural residents returned to their villages to set up new enterprises in 2021, up 10.9% from the previous year.
3.3 Digital finance: As of June 2022, rural digital payment customers totaled 227 million. Bank and non-bank entities handled 17.3 billion and 576 billion digital transactions, respectively in 2021, an increase of 22.5% and 23.5% respectively compared to the previous year. The various digital finance tools offered 27,496 pieces of credit to rural residents, with total amounts exceeding 20 billion RMB.
4. Rural governance
“Internet + government services” and “internet + base-level social governance” were expanded to most of the country. 355 county-level platforms were established, covering 100% of all counties in China. The digital emergency response services to unforeseen events such as weather, flood, drought, and disease outbreaks was strengthened, with the national emergency radio transmission rate in rural areas reaching 79.7%.
5. Rural internet culture
As of August 2022, 2,585 county-level media centers were established, collectively opening 1,443 radio channels and 1,682 TV channels. The various online influencers on Chinese platforms have created rural life-related contents, boosting rural tourism and cultural distribution.
6. Assisted social services
6.1 “Internet + education” services expanded to most rural primary and secondary schools, with 100% of the compulsory educational institutions covered.
6.2 With the operation of a national digital public education platform, 34,000 pieces of basic education and 22,000 vocational education materials were distributed.
6.3 “Internet + health” services covered 85% of the municipal areas and 69% of all county-level jurisdictions to provide essential health and tele-medicine services.
6.4 “Internet + welfare”: As of June 2022, digital social security card users in China reached 619 million and robust efforts made these services available in the rural areas.
7. Digital green villages
As of June 2022, 3,005 rural air quality measurement stations and 4,688 rural surface water quality measurement stations were established to monitor the environment quality. The stations are fully integrated into the digital system.
8. Policy support for digital village development
The following policy documents released by the Chinese government directly or indirectly address or support the development of digital villages in China.
- People’s Republic of China’s Rural Revitalization Promotion Law
- 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) for National Economic and Social Development and Vision 2035 of the People’s Republic of China
- 14th Five-Year National Informatization Plan
- 14th Five-Year Agriculture Modernization Plan
- 14th Five-Year National Agriculture and Rural Informatization Plan
- Digital Village Development Action Plan (2022-2025)
- Digital Village Development Guideline 1.0
Despite the touted successes of digital village development in China, there are still many issues to be improved and addressed. The digital infrastructure gap between China’s developed coastal areas and interior and western regions is still huge, which requires concerted efforts to close these gaps. The lower digital literacy among the rural elderly population still poses challenges to the development of digital villages. More improvements can be made in technology standardization as well as in data privacy and protection. Greater grass-root participation in the various digital village-related initiatives could make their development more inclusive and sustainable.