PINDUODUO (PDD) is the fastest-growing e-commerce platform in China, attracting more than 600 million users in less than five years with its interactive team purchases and social commerce model. The company, which started out selling fruits and fresh produce, is also the largest online marketplace for agricultural products in the country.

Welcoming PDD to the World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit’s partners and speaker faculty, we spoke to Xin Yi Lim, Executive Director for Sustainability & Agricultural Impact.

Pinduoduo connects more than 12 million farmers via its platform to sell directly to consumers in China. How did the Covid-19 outbreak affect the agriculture supply chain and how did Pinduoduo help growers and consumers overcome the disruptions?

The strict lockdowns imposed in China during the first quarter caused major dislocations to the food supply chain. The traditional wholesale channels were closed, leaving farmers saddled with a lot of produce that they could not get to market. At the same time, we saw more consumers migrate online to get their produce.

To ease this disruption, Pinduoduo set up a dedicated “Help The Farmers” channel to better match surplus produce directly with consumer demand. To drum up consumer interest, we organized livestreaming sessions with local community leaders and farmers showcasing their produce. Consumers learned about the unique properties of the produce and were able to ask sellers questions through the livestream before placing their orders.

Pinduoduo is a platform that encourages consumers to share and purchase together to enjoy more savings. For something like agricultural produce, where demand is more fungible (i.e. you may be more flexible on whether you’re consuming apples or oranges today), team purchase can have a very powerful effect in aggregating volumes for sellers.

As of mid-August, we have sold over 790,000 metric tonnes of fruit across more than 250 million orders. Covid-19 has clearly accelerated the migration of fresh produce purchasing online, and the sustained momentum demonstrates that users are embracing the convenience of e-commerce and also enjoying the savings that come from a more streamlined supply chain for produce.

How has Pinduoduo evolved from its beginnings in selling fresh produce to other product streams such as agricultural inputs and equipment? What role did Covid-19 play in driving sales online?

Pinduoduo was already one of the largest e-commerce platforms for agricultural produce before Covid-19, with almost US$20 billion worth of agricultural produce sold on our platform last year. As more farmers go online to sell their produce, they are also discovering the same convenience and value-for-money offerings for agricultural inputs and equipment. This was especially so as traditional agricultural fairs – where farmers typically bought their planting suppliers – got cancelled or postponed due to Covid-19.

What’s the rationale behind Pinduoduo introducing technology to farming and organizing contests such as the Smart Agriculture Competition, which pits traditional farmers against data scientists to see who can produce the most economic benefit?

When it comes to new technology, we think it’s important to showcase tangible benefits to farmers first to encourage adoption and more widespread penetration. Our Smart Agriculture Competition, jointly organized with China Agricultural University and with technical support from the FAO, is one such effort at bridging the divide between technology-enabled and the more traditional methods of farming.

In the competition, four global technology teams will grow strawberries remotely in a smart greenhouse in Yunnan over the course of 3.5 months, while traditional horticulturalists grow theirs in an adjacent facility.

To emphasize we are focused on real benefits, the winner of the challenge will be determined based on economic profit, which considers the costs incurred to achieve the yield.
In our Duo Duo Farms poverty alleviation project, for example, we have worked with agronomists to introduce technology such as drip irrigation to farms in impoverished counties to improve yield.

Through your platform, Pinduoduo can influence the entire supply chain from the farmer all the way through to the consumers. How are you collaborating with other stakeholders to address “difficult to solve” supply chain problems and develop new solutions?

There are indeed certain pain points in the supply chain such as quality control and assurance that require the involvement of multiple stakeholders to address – as a platform connecting almost 700 million buyers with over 12 million farmers, we see ourselves as being in a good position to drive change.

Pinduoduo has launched a research collaboration with the Singapore Institute of Food and Biotechnology Innovation to develop a lower-cost method of testing fresh produce for pesticide residues. By lowering the cost of testing and making it faster and more portable, we can increase the stringency of enforcement and help to nudge the industry toward better quality.

Given our scale, farmers producing high-quality produce would be keen to differentiate themselves through such testing and gain customers through our platform. At the same time, we also want to provide our consumers who demand more premium produce access to such products in the market.

Why is the World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit important to your objectives? Who are you looking to meet through the summit?

We are looking forward to sharing our experience with potential partners at the World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit. We are keen to partner with organizations throughout the agri-food ecosystem to drive innovation, whether it be startups, corporates, funds or research institutes. As a fast-growing e-commerce platform, we can make use of consumer insights to further inform upstream providers, and can similarly also serve as a test-bed for new products launched for consumers and farmers alike since we have such an active and sizeable base.

To see more stories about Pinduoduo’s efforts in agriculture, visit: stories.pinduoduo-global.com

Don’t miss Xin Yi’s presentation within Track 3: Supply Chain Resilience on Wednesday September 16 (3.40pm BST): Connecting Farmers to Consumers with Online Ag Marketplaces. For more detailed insights, join her Networking Roundtable discussion group: Digital Ag Marketplaces: Business Models Disrupting the Status Quo, also on Wednesday at 3pm and 5pm (BST) – limited seats so book your place now through the virtual platform.