China looks to robots, big data to drive agriculture forward

Why it matters: The Xi Jinping leadership has vowed to bridge China’s urban-rural gap, which dates back to the Mao era. It has settled on digital agriculture as the answer.Digitalizing farming can raise average incomes and mobilize the rural consumer class. The next wave of growth will come not from top-tier urban hubs such as Beijing or Shanghai but from lesser-known third and fourth-tier cities. The Digital Agriculture and Rural Area Development Plan 2019-2025” acknowledges (in Chinese) that data resources are scattered and coverage rates remain low. But top Party agencies are serious about the digitalizing the countryside and building 5G networks in these areas.The plan sets hard targets. By 2025, the agricultural digital economy must account for 15% of China’s agriculture value-add, and the proportion of agricultural products sold online should hit 15%, according to the plan.Internet access should reach 70% of rural areas by the same deadline.The state wants to see a new generation of agricultural robots.” These will track fish, diagnose diseases, and help in grazing and feeding animals.Artificial intelligence should protect crops, generate aerial imagery, and monitor yields.
Agricultural machinery should leverage China’s homegrown satellite mapping system Beidou.
The plan is keen on leveraging data to tell farmers where, when, and how to plant.Blockchain applications for rural finance, food safety, and supply chain transparency should also see breakthroughs.

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