A computerized agricultural assistance system has been introduced to the homes of farmers in the southwestern mountain area of Wuling, people who have never seen a computer before, though they had heard of the "electronic brain" that could help people do high-tech things or be used by youngsters to play games.

With the help of agricultural experts at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Enshi prefecture in Hubei Province has established websites and developed a number of computer programs to help farmers solve technical production problems and keep up with the latest market information.

As one of the 16 pilot counties inhabited by ethnic minorities in China, Hefeng, a county in Enshi, launched the computerized assistance system in January last year. Computers were installed at agricultural service stations, farming companies and larger individual farms, helping people in five major farming areas – growing tea, Chinese chestnuts, goats, pigs and mushrooms. It also covers 1,200 pilot farming households, some scattered in the mountains.

The difference being made by the technology is obvious. In the first nine months this year, 12.3 million yuan (US$1.5 million) more income was reported in Hefeng, with the profits from the five major production bases increasing from 17 to 100 per cent compared to 2002. "The computers have really helped me a lot," said Liu Yunyang, a goat-raising farmer in Xiaping Village in Hefeng, who cannot wait to tell people about the benefits of the system.

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