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February 25, 2024   China Daily  

Village CEOs Seek Unique Rural Growth

Case Study; Value Chain Development for Smallholders; Rural Revitalization; Zhejiang

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A rural CEO (second from left) guides villagers on growing plants in a town in Zhuji, Zhejiang province, in May. XU YU/XINHUA

New professionals play pivotal role in operations, boosting revitalization

A group of workers — known as agricultural professional managers — have been playing a pivotal role in villages across Zhejiang province, as operations and management become imperative alongside rural revitalization efforts in the countryside.

The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security recognized the agricultural professional manager, or village CEO, as a new profession in 2019.

These village CEOs refer to those who offer agricultural management services — such as organizing production, operating equipment, technical support, product processing and sales — in agricultural organizations such as farm cooperatives.

They leverage local resources to help villages develop their own unique industries.

In 2019, Hangzhou's Yuhang District Bureau of Agriculture and Rural Affairs recruited its first group of village CEOs.

They were contract employees whose basic annual salary was 180,000 yuan ($25,194).

Their performance appraisals were made based on their achievements in rural operations, with the performance-review criteria determined by the village cooperatives themselves.

Yong'an, once an underdeveloped village in Yuhang, has witnessed a dramatic change over the past three years, with its collective operating income surging from 730,000 yuan in 2019 to 5.05 million yuan in 2022.

The income from its farmland rose from 555 yuan per mu (0.067 hectares) to 5,800 yuan per mu from 2019 to 2022.

These changes are a result of the work put in by Liu Song, the village CEO of Yong'an.

"We desperately needed a talent with operational skills. That's why we carried out the recruitment for the second group of village CEOs in 2020," said Zhang Shuibao, Party secretary of Yong'an.

Liu, a graduate of Zhejiang University, got the position after years of experience working in a production company.

"I'm familiar with the cultivation of paddies as well as operation and management. Yong'an is a rice-growing village that has great potential to develop rice-related industries," Liu said.

Understanding the limited usage of farmland in the village, Liu tailored a project to invite urban visitors and companies to adopt a unit for paddy cultivation.

Those who join the project get all the produce from their land, while the village offers plantation and cultivation services. The growth of rice can also be monitored through an online platform.

To promote the project, Liu launched a harvest festival in 2021, which attracted over 40,000 visitors to the village. The entirety of available land was adopted in a single day.

Revolving around the theme of rice, several facilities, including a rice factory that integrates rice processing, tourism and training, a rice workshop, a rural revitalization academy, a study tour base, and a livestreaming room, have been set up in the village.

"The village receives two to three thousand visitors on weekends," Liu said.

He noted that the participation of villagers is vital for the development of a village.

"They are encouraged to join us and share the fruits of rural revitalization. Otherwise, what we've done cannot be called a success."

The development of Yong'an has drawn young people who had migrated for work to return and start their own businesses, such as study tour agencies, minsu (Chinese-style bed-and-breakfast establishments), and handicraft shops.

Xie Bing, once a new media professional in Shanghai, has worked as the village CEO of Honglishan village in Huzhou for three years.

In 2020, Xie launched a rafting project that has brought visitors and new opportunities to the village.

Subsequently, he suggested developing its traditional houses into an old-street scenic spot and encouraged local people to start their minsu businesses.

Since 2022, the village has received more than 600,000 visitors and generated tourism revenue of 40 million yuan, driving up villagers' incomes by more than 1 million yuan.

"The village CEO helps us to tackle the problems we face, which has greatly supported us in developing our businesses," said Zheng Yunyu, manager of Huihong Farmland in Honglishan.

Lujia village was the first in Huzhou to recruit a village CEO.In 2019, the village posted a recruitment advertisement to hire a village CEO with an annual salary of 300,000 yuan.

Although the village CEO has helped promote the development of the village, a professional team will work more effectively, said Zhu Renbin, Party secretary of Lujia.

"It's hard for an individual to ensure the long-term sustainable development of a village. That's why we recruit an operations team," Zhu said.

Now, a professional team works in Lujia village, with one person assigned to each task.

In September, Zhejiang launched the "1,000 Village CEO Training Plan".

Among the first group of 100 trainees from across the province, about 60 percent have a bachelor's degree or higher.

The training, which is expected to last nine months, includes lectures, on-site training, remote teaching, and exchange visits.

Chang Yingjiao, one of the trainees, is a new village CEO of Xingang village in Yuhang district.

Chang, who graduated from Shanxi Agricultural University in 2015, worked in the tourism industry in Shanghai for six years. Inspired by the prospects of rural revitalization, she returned to her hometown Xingang as a village CEO in February.

"Despite years of work experience, I still feel at a loss in rural operations since it is a completely new field for me," said Chang, "The training, during which teachers provide different views on rural operations, helps a lot."

Gao Bingxia, founder of a study tour agency in Wenzhou village, also attended the training. Gao hopes to bring her entrepreneurial experience and resources back to the village to help in its development.


Village CEOs Seek Unique Rural Growth


Village CEOs Seek Unique Rural Growth


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