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5G brings the Yunnan coffee trail from China’s mountains

(Nov. 2023) If you had to pick the perfect location for growing coffee, you’d probably choose somewhere like the village of Xinzhai. Situated by the Lujiang River dam about 1,000 meters above sea level, its elevation and mild climate produce superior beans that make for a fragrant brew. 

Most people wouldn’t associate coffee with a remote village in China. But the inhabitants of Xinzhai, and the nearby town of Baoshan, began planting coffee trees back in 1952.

The video "The Coffee Trail from China's Mountains" shows how connectivity transforms Baoshan in Yunnan. The thumbnail shows villagers livestreaming. 

By the 1980s, international coffee brands had begun to source low-grade beans from Xinzhai to make inexpensive instant coffee. Xinzhai villagers planted more trees, but they couldn’t scale the proverbial value chain: the quality of their output was relatively low, and so were the prices they could charge. Many villagers wanted to cut down the coffee trees and plant other cash crops instead.

But about a decade ago, Xinzhai decided to start planting higher grades of coffee bean. Today, 906 hectares are being used for coffee, taking up 95% of the total cultivated land and producing a yearly output value of nearly US$14 million. This growth has helped raise local living standards. 

California’s Napa and Sonoma Counties are renowned for growing wine, and for attracting tourists eager to sample it. Napa Valley alone gets nearly 4 million visitors a year. Xinzhai wants to do the same thing with coffee.

The Technology improves the competitiveness of Yunnan coffee.  The photo shows a plantation in Xinzhai. 

Already there is a Coffee Museum and a Coffee Experience Hall where people can learn about how coffee is grown, processed, sold – and, of course, enjoyed. There is an annual Coffee Festival. And at local farmhouses converted into B&Bs, tourists can pick coffee beans in the field, learn proper brewing techniques from professional baristas, and taste the different varieties of local coffee, freshly ground. It has already attracted about 120,000 tourists a year, being a famous tourist village in Yunnan Province.

Digital technology plays an important role in the growth of both “coffee tourism” and coffee itself. The village of Xinzhai has deployed five 5G base stations to support e-commerce, live selling, and IoT applications related to coffee cultivation. IoT sensors can obtain meaningful data about coffee cultivation, including temperature, humidity, and soil acidity. By analyzing this data, farmers can plant more efficiently and reap greater economic rewards.

The coffee industry in Xinzhai Village has also attracted many outsiders to start their own businesses, including Ms. Sha Susu from Shandong. Based in Xinzhai Village since 2017, she currently runs a cafe and has her own plantation farm.

A base station being set up in Baoshan, Yunnan 

Susu says she is thrilled about the possibilities of digital technology: "We hope to employ more technology and grow finer coffee. We would love to use live streaming and other means to let more people know about Yunnan coffee. "

Yunnan’s growing coffee industry is supported by stable, high-capacity 5G connectivity. IoT sensors in the fields capture vital data about temperature, humidity, PH levels in the soil, the presence of insects, or the threat of a fungus or other disease that could kill a coffee plant. The data are analyzed, then converted into usable insights that help farmers operate more efficiently and more profitably. 

In addition to the five 5G base stations located in Xinzhai village, China Mobile, the local operator, has installed 35 more to cover the surrounding area. This connectivity supports e-commerce, live broadcasts, video streaming, and all the IoT applications related to coffee growing. 

"We didn't see the world before, but now we want the world to see us.” With more ubiquitous digital technology in Xinzhai Village, more young people will return to their hometowns and fields, attracting "new farmers" to devote themselves onto "new agriculture", allowing Yunnan coffee to go out from Yunnan mountains and into other markets around the world.

A local coffee shop in Baoshan