20 February 2019
Alibaba is marketing farmland as an investment product in a new venture. Photo: Bloomberg
Alibaba is marketing farmland as an investment product in a new venture. Photo: Bloomberg

Alibaba targets farming and football for next shake-up

Alibaba, China’s biggest e-commerce firm, has never shied away from flagging its ambition to shake up traditional businesses by leveraging the power of the Internet. After changing the rules of game in many sectors, the company has now set its sights on two fresh frontiers — agriculture and sport.

In the agriculture sector, Juhuasuan, the group buying platform of Alibaba, has cooperated with a Zhejiang e-commerce firm and a group of farmers in Anhui province to launch the nation’s first internet-based customized private farmland project.

The Hangzhou-based group invested 100 million yuan to acquire 5000 mu (3.3 million square meters) of farmland in Anhui and Zhejiang and hired farmers to run these farmland, and the public can pay for a certain amount of fee to join the project, something similar to Hong Kong’s farmland rental service.

The “farmland bao” gathers fragmented farmland, capital and labor force together for reinvestment. People investing in the project can secure produce generated from the farmland. They can also avail of vegetables grown on the land and free local tours and accommodation when they visit the property. 

According to a report by iDoNews, a China technology news website, the farmland bao has drawn significant response from more than 3,500 participants, and they are said to have taken up 430 mu of farmland for a combined 2 million yuan.

While it is still too early to comment on the success of farmland bao project, what is certain is that the introduction of internet concept into the agricultural industry can have some impact on the nation’s primary sector.

Agricultural reform has long been a key agenda of Chinese authorities as the nation still has more than half of its people living in villages in the countryside, relying on farming for their main source of revenue. The government’s massive push to move rural people into urban areas for economic growth has had a significant impact on the primary sector.

Alibaba’s farmland bao model can, in fact, help the government in implementing reform in the agriculture sector which has a crucial bearing on domestic consumption and economic growth. Fragmented farmland can be gathered to derive economy of scale for planting vital crops to feed the growing urban population.

In addition, the introduction of agri-tourism will encourage other farmland owners to adopt similar practice and generate more revenues. That could be a more sustainable business model than constantly seeking government policy support.

Meanwhile, in another venture, Alibaba is poised to shake up the nation’s football market after founder Jack Ma said he will take 49 percent stake in the Hangzhou Greentown football club and become the team’s second largest shareholder.

While the public is still yet to decode the exact reason for the deal, observers have pointed out that Ma could link the football team into a crowd-funding idea, raising funds from internet users to achieve certain goals.

Maybe someday in the future, Greentown’s fans or investors can raise funds to request the team’s management to sign football stars like Cristiano Ronaldo.

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EJ Insight writer

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