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Village CEOs Propel China's Rural Progress | In-Depth

By TAN XINYU|Jun 05,2024

This aerial photo, taken on August 19, 2023, shows terraced fields in Dingshi town, Youyang Tujia, and Miao autonomous county, Southwest China's Chongqing municipality. (Photo/Xinhua)

Chongqing - Hejiayan village in Youyang Tujia and Miao autonomous county of Southwest China's Chongqing launched an online adoption program recently for a 30,000-mu (2,000 hectares) rice field. The village is selling locally unique rice that benefits from the region's fertile soil, abundant sunshine, and optimal altitude.

Through the relevant mini-program, adopters can watch live streams of the rice fields for 150 days, experiencing the farming process and sharing the harvest with farmers online. The mini-program also provides weekly updates on soil and planting, revealing the meticulous care behind the high-quality rice. Live events during the adoption period, like rice transplanting competitions and field song festivals, offer adopters diverse insights into rice cultivation and local rural life.

Hejiayan village initiated the program in 2022, starting with a 100-mu rice field that attracted nearly 9,000 adopters nationwide. New models of agricultural operation like this are inseparable from village CEOs.

The village CEO, also known as the agricultural manager, is rapidly emerging as a new professional group in China. This group possesses both technical expertise and managerial skills.

"As a village CEO, innovation is key. Sticking to traditional practices makes it difficult to elevate a village to higher levels of development," said Dong Qiang, professor of the College of Humanities and Development Studies at China Agricultural University, adding that the management skills required for village CEOs are also demanding.

Unlike many who choose urban employment for higher returns, agricultural managers need to return to their hometowns or villages to facilitate rural development. Dong emphasized the necessity of their possessing a profound love for the countryside.

He Shuqin, left, talks with the head of the Leshuang Chengkou Mountain Chicken Cooperative in Heyu town, Chengkou County, on April 9, 2024. (Photo/Xinhua)

The beautiful scenery, with its clear, pristine waters, quaint bridges, lush forests, and verdant fields, along with the genuine warmth of the locals in Chengkou county of Chongqing, were among the reasons why He Shuqin decided to leave his job in the downtown and pursue a career as a village CEO here.

Located deep in the Daba Mountains, Chengkou has a solid foundation for industries such as cured meat, mountain chickens, and edible mushrooms. The county also boasts rich resources for rural tourism. In 2021, 190 rural collective economic organizations in Chengkou jointly established the Dabashan rural collective economic organization management company to manage rural resources and support collective economic development.

This joint-stock company hired He Shuqin as its general manager. Having previously worked at a state-owned agricultural financial services institution, He possesses extensive financial knowledge and experience in evaluating the feasibility of rural programs. He said he spends two to three days a week in villages and towns conducting field research on recommended projects and revisiting invested ones.

He emphasized that rural industries have long investment cycles and high risks, necessitating careful investment decisions. With his expertise, his main task at the company is to refine the feasibility assessment mechanism for rural investments, thereby reducing risks and promoting high-quality development of rural industries.

As of April, his company has invested more than 30 million yuan ($4.14 million), supporting the development of over 20 rural industry projects. It has also distributed nearly 900,000 yuan in dividends to village collective economic organization shareholders, enhancing rural industry revitalization and increasing farmers' income.

He Shuqin, right, visits a local company in Beiping town, Chengkou county, in April. (Photo provided to iChongqing and Bridging News)

Multiple trainings aid village CEOs' growth

He Shuqin is one of the millions of village CEOs in China. According to estimates from the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, by 2019, the number of agricultural managers nationwide had exceeded 2.86 million, distributed across towns and villages throughout the country.

In 2019, village CEO was one of the 13 new professions jointly published by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, the State Administration for Market Regulation, and the National Bureau of Statistics. According to a 2019 report by China's Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, the forecast suggests a demand for approximately 1.5 million agricultural managers in China from 2019 to 2024.

The arrival of CEOs in rural areas has brought new ideas and vitality to rural economic development, but some encounter challenges. Some college graduates find it difficult to apply theory to practice, while others, filled with ambition, struggle to find a clear development path in rural areas. Additionally, some CEOs face difficulties adapting to the entrepreneurial environment in rural areas and ultimately give up.

He Shuqin's journey as a village CEO has not been smooth sailing. Having grown up in the city, his understanding of rural areas remained superficial. His previous work primarily involved assessing the debt and operations of agricultural companies, so when he first became a village CEO, he was unfamiliar with rural life, agricultural policies, and related industries.

He attributes his professional growth to continuous learning. He often participates in both offline and online events organized by the Institute for Rural Revitalization Strategy of Southwest University, and related authorities and associations. These activities primarily focus on interpreting policies, analyzing cases, and sharing insights and experiences.

Dong Qiang, who is also a mentor for village CEOs, emphasized that support for this new professional group from universities and enterprises focuses on enhancing their professional capabilities, which is crucial in today's competitive industry landscape. Additionally, these managers can foster collaboration and mutual learning through exchanges, interactions, and training.

Dong also highlighted that many in this group may sometimes feel uncertain about their career development. Hence, support from universities and enterprises helps them gain clearer insights into future directions, boosting their confidence and long-term motivation to contribute to rural areas.

A homestay in Lantian town, Chengkou county. (Photo provided to iChongqing and Bridging News)

Various village CEO forms drive rural development

Currently, Chengkou has recruited four village CEOs like He Shuqin through market-oriented methods, according to Zhang E, head of the agricultural economics division of the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee of Chengkou County. The county will continue to boost rural economic development by nurturing 16 local financial staff in the village collective economic organizations and more than 60 village directors into village CEOs, as well as attracting high-quality external investment entities.

Zhang mentioned an external investment entity in Lantian Town of Chengkou, acting as a village CEO. It renovated vacant houses into homestays, diversifying local businesses and introducing new entrepreneurial ideas to villagers.

"Compared to the town's previous low-end tourism offerings, this investor has introduced urban-inspired features like coffee bars, hiking, and study tours. This has attracted higher-spending visitors, boosting the economic benefits of rural areas," said Zhang.

A homestay in Lantian town, Chengkou county. (Photo provided to iChongqing and Bridging News)

Zhang also talked about a dilemma encountered by some village CEOs. He observed that those who have already attained financial independence may find easier success by aiming to fulfill their personal sense of purpose and contribute to rural areas. However, directly nurturing a village CEO from the grassroots level might introduce a conflict between rural development and the personal growth of these individuals.

Dong Qiang believed that the development of village CEOs also requires sustained support from local governments. Since many of these CEOs are engaged in industries with low value-added or low returns in rural areas, continuous support from local governments is crucial for this group.

Additionally, to enhance the stability of the village CEO group, it's crucial to improve the business environment and public service facilities in rural areas, along with developing and enhancing relevant industrial clusters. Dong emphasized that this is essential for enabling village CEOs to play a more significant role.


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