Village vloggers in China cash in on livestreaming

QINGHAI – Ms Geru Drolma began digging for fungi on the Qinghai-Tibet plateau at the age of six, following in the footsteps of her ethnic Tibetan parents, as her family eked out a meagre living from sales to nearby shops.

Fourteen years later, she shot to stardom when a video of the arduous work that she posted online attracted half a million viewers, putting her on the path to prosperity.

In May 2017, Ms Drolma, then 20, and her mother ventured into the snowcapped landscape near their home in Daocheng county, in Sichuan province’s Ganzi Tibetan autonomous prefecture, in the hope of unearthing a lot of cordyceps. The fungus, native to the region, grows on the bodies of caterpillars and is used in traditional Chinese medicine.

Ms Drolma shot a video of the process on her mobile phone to share on Kuaishou, a short video app she had downloaded a few months earlier.

The next day, when she logged onto her Kuaishou account, she was stunned. The cordyceps video had been viewed 500,000 times, and she had 3,000 new followers. Her inbox was overwhelmed with messages asking about the price of cordyceps.

She said she was amazed that the “dull routines of my life could be something interesting for others”.

Ms Drolma, who now has 2.2 million followers on Kuaishou, decided to cash in on her newfound fame by livestreaming about local farm produce – an increasingly popular online marketing strategy.

The business was so successful that in 2019, she started a cooperative with her husband to supply their livestreaming channel with a constant flow of local specialties.

“Our clients place millions of orders online each year, and the revenue of our cooperative can reach 5 million yuan (S$943,000) a year,” she said.

She is among a growing number of farmers riding the wave of China’s e-commerce livestreaming boom.

Assisted by better telecommunication infrastructure in once-isolated hamlets and cheaper courier services, the farmers-turned-hosts bypass middlemen to pitch their agricultural products directly to deep-pocketed customers thousands of kilometres away.

Such videos have even led to the creation of a new genre of clips on Kuaishou and other short video platforms. These village live broadcasts are known in Chinese as “cunbo”.

In a report released in September, Kuaishou said more than 870 million yuan worth of farm produce was sold on the platform in 2022 through village live broadcasts, up 55 per cent year-on-year.

It said more than 300 million users had been identified as being interested in content with rural themes.

In January, Kuaishou launched a village broadcaster training programme that aims to promote China’s rural revitalisation campaign by helping village vloggers get more exposure.


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