Though only a few hundred kilometers from Shanghai, farmers living in the small rural township of Bihu have long struggled to find a market for their produce. Bad roads and the small scale of individual production made trade impossible. 1999 witnessed farmers weeping as they had to throw rotting asparagus beans, mushrooms, aubergine and Chinese broccoli into the Ou’jiang River. It was then that a community member, Mr. Xiong Jinping, decided to do something.
He founded the Bihu Coop. Made up of 328 farming families from 21 small villages, the cooperative offers its members a centralized market space, training and higher yield seed varieties. Beyond that, the Bihu Coop offers something very rare in the agricultural sector: economic security. Members can sell crops direct to brokers. However, the coop encourages members to sell through the organization. Farmers want to sell through the organization because Bihu grantees a base rate for crops and, if it bargains a higher price, it shares the profits with members.
The coop also discovered that they were working too hard. Accustomed to the desperate struggle to sell crops, members sent sales representatives out to entice brokers. Quickly, however, word about the market spread and, now, all farmers have to do is wait for brokers to arrive.
Because of the cooperative, this community finds itself far from the days when terrain and business models lead to isolation, far from the days when the only way to move vegetables out of Bihu was to dump moldering crops in the river.