The “blockchain chicken farm”: tech giants plunge into rural China

Blockchain technology and facial recognition technology in pigs and chickens with pedometers. Chinese tech giants like Alibaba, JD and Huawei are displacing themselves to turn farms into high-tech enterprises.

In the village of Baoxianlan, about 300 kilometres south of Beijing, you can find such a cooperative. A so-called blockchain chicken farm: an initiative of JD, one of Chinas largest Internet giants. Every day, multiple photos of the chickens are uploaded onto a platform that uses blockchain technology, shows project leader He Xiaofei. This way consumers can see how our chickens have been raised on their phones.

JD got big with e-commerce. In addition to online shopping, it has a huge logistics network for parcel delivery, offers cloud and payment services and has taken its first steps in healthcare. Blockchain chicken farms were also added to the list. Weve been doing this for about two years now, says He.

Cake does not fall out of the sky, can be read on a large propaganda banner in the village. Syrup up the sleeves, is behind it, accompanied by a photo of party boss and President Xi Jinping. Like so many people of his generation, 60-year-old farmer Wang Aihua can endorse that message.

As a child, he experienced the Great Leap Forward. Plans by the then leader Mao Zedong to implement large-scale reforms in agriculture were in a terrible failure. Life was hard, Wang looks back. Tens of millions of people died. We had far too little to eat our bellies around. That time is over. Wang, with the revolutionary first name love China, has joined the cooperative leading the blockchain chicken farm in his village.

Correspondent Sjoerd visited a blockchain farm:

After a series of food scandals, Chinese consumers are suspicious. Eggs and meat are often wrongly sold as free-range chickens. With us, they know for sure that the chicken they buy is reliable, says project leader He. Green, healthy and safe, he calls it.

Besides JD, companies like Alibaba, Netease and recently also Huawei have dived into the stable. The latter saw, after US trade restrictions, international smartphone sales collapse. Huawei wants to use its technology to monitor pig health, including weight, food and movement. Facial recognition technology should be able to distinguish individual pigs from each other and register any problems at an early stage.

Modernisation

In addition to making food safer, the use of technology should, above all, lead to a boost in efficiency in rural China. Today China is dependent on some 200 million, mostly smaller farms. Sometimes they dont have much more than a few chickens, pigs or cows in the front yard, often led by older rural residents. Projects like this help to modernize and scale up Chinese agriculture, says He. In addition to animal husbandry, the technology is also used in growing vegetables, fruits and cereals, although the margins are lower.

Projects like JDs in Baoxianlan can count on solid government subsidies, farmers get cheap loans. Under Xi Jinping, self-sufficiency has been given top priority. China must hold its own rice bowl firmly, he said earlier.

No more food waste

Just last summer, for the same reason, a campaign was launched calling for no food to be wasted. Floods in the south and drought in the north had once again exposed the vulnerabilities of the Chinese food chain. Swine fever, avian influenza and Covid-19 also led to major price fluctuations.

Fewer people in the barn has since been the motto, something that works pretty well at the blockchain farm in Baoxianlan. Only a few people, after thorough disinfection, are allowed to get near the chickens. The technology applied here is relatively simple. We are still in full development, He says about that.

Pedometers that were previously used with the chickens have now been removed. We now know that they take about 10,000 steps a day. In 100 days, it will come to 1 million, he smiles. Farmer Wang, who helps to keep the land clean within the cooperative, believes it all. I dont understand much of all this high technology, he laughs. But life has really gotten a lot better. We have more money to spend.