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Mother & Daughter searching for food

Live-Streaming Is Helping Farmers Combat Poverty In China

Geru Drolma lives in Western China’s Sichuan province, and is making a huge name for herself as an entrepreneur. What started out as a means-to-an-end idea that would give Drolma some money for her monthly expenses has given her a huge social media following and a successful, sustainable business that’s benefiting all those around her. 

Drolma has been hunting for wild fungi to sell at the local markets in her area for over a year now. She’s Tibetan, meaning that for generations before her, past Tibetans within her bloodline have forged pathways throughout the mountains in her area that lead to spots with the best vegetation. Fungi and vegetation varieties may not seem like a steady way to make an income, however, today the Chinese market for them is extremely lucrative. The rarest fungi are grown for one month out of the year, at the base of a tree, only at a very specific elevation (13,000 feet). The process to finding these fungi may seem dramatic, but at $1,000 a kilo, it’s definitely worth it. 

They’re known as Matsutake mushrooms, and for Drolma, finding them has always been a family affair, and according to her that’s the only way she’s been able to be successful. “Matsutakes can only be found by experienced people. My husband, for example, hasn’t dug out a single one so far!” Drolma told TIME Magazine also stating that her father has taught her from a very young age how to spot areas of the earth that are likely to inhabit wild fungi. 

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One day, while Drolma was on her daily 5 a.m. hike up the mountains to collect her harvest, she decided to live-stream her process using the Chinese app Kuaishou. Her first post alone had over 600,000 views and countless comments between Drolma and other local harvesters. After a few more live-streams she made the decision to dedicate herself full-time to live-streaming, and after a few weeks she created such a name for herself and her rare fungi finds that she caught the attention of local farmers and villagers. 

Drolma went on to set up a collective deal with the local villagers and farmers in regards to her fungi finds and the demanding market it was creating. These fungi aren’t just used for elegant cuisine, but also as bases to a lot of medicine, both holistic and pharmaceutical, so the business she was generating was quite substantial. 

Through her collective Drolma and her team were able to generate $500,000 in revenue during the five month fungi picking season. This accomplishment is not only huge for Drolma, but every villager living in her area, which is historically known as one of China’s most impoverished areas, according to TIME.

“My family strongly opposed our decision to concentrate on live-streaming at the beginning. They didn’t understand online money you cannot see or touch, and said that I acted like a beggar by taking videos during private times like meals. But I never thought about giving up.” Drolma now has 1.9 million followers.

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As previously stated Drolma uses the live-streaming app Kuaishou, which works beyond the limits of cookies and data outreach to connect its users to content they want to see. The app actually uses AI technology as a means of recording and storing data regarding users’ interests to connect them with other users who are the same. 

“All uploaded content is forensically parsed: the facial expressions of those featured, any objects included or action taking place, what background music is playing, even the style of a protagonist’s dancing. Any words uttered are automatically transcribed by embedded voice recognition software and mined for keyword tags. Kuaishou doesn’t only show users content that directly correlates to their interests, but also attempts to broader the topics they see depending on what works with similar profile types,” according to TIME.

15 million videos are uploaded to the platform everyday amongst the app’s 700 million users. The creative side of Kuaishou allows anyone, with any amount of photography/editing experience, to create Hollywood-level masterpieces with its extensive list of special effects and editing tools. Additionally, the app has an online store and gift application extension, which allows entrepreneurs like Drolma to easily make money through the app. 

What AI has done here is given someone with a vast amount of knowledge regarding ancient Tibetan culture and Chinese fungi a platform to not only share her knowledge, but make a business for herself. There are endless possibilities within this technology, and now those without the many resources it normally takes to run and operate a business can simply do it from their phone.