Livestreaming changes farmer's life

By Phan Duong   October 5, 2023 | 08:26 pm PT
Luu Quang Dai, the friendly, bearded and formerly-poor owner of a 400,000-follower TikTok account, makes VND200 million (US$8,211) a month selling his produce via livestream.

As an avid fan of technology, 33-year-old Dai, whose TikTok moniker is "Dai Bac Kan," began making videos documenting his farm life and trips into the forest to harvest the varied bounty of the wilderness at the end of 2021. He figured out how to shoot video and edit by himself, as well as how to add music and voiceovers.

Luu Quang Dai, 33, on a wild harvest trip in the forest in 2022. Photo courtesy of Dai

Luu Quang Dai, 33, on a wild harvest trip in the forest in 2022. Photo courtesy of Dai

Dai, a member of the Tay ethnic community who lives in the remote inland northern province of Bac Kan’s Duong Phong Town (Bach Thong District), said that in the beginning, he only had a cheap smartphone to use.

Since there was no one to help him, he would prop up his phone on a bamboo stick and talk to the camera. Many times, he had to redo his shots because the camera was off-kilter.

"My first few videos were shot in the forest because I didn’t want other people around me to think I’m weird," Dai said.

Dai’s wife, 28-year-old Ly Thi Xuan, who hails from the Dao ethnic minority community, said that at first, her husband’s strange hobby irritated her because she didn’t understand why he did it. It appeared a purposeless waste of time.

While walking in the forest, she wanted to finish their work quickly in case of rain, but he would stop to make videos. At home, while she busied herself with their livestock and children, his eyes would be glued to his phone.

"I can’t count the number of times I’ve gotten angry at him," she said.

But then Dai’s videos started ending up on the trending page, and his number of views began skyrocketing. When Xuan saw his face light up while reading the comments, she realized that there was some good to what he was doing. She then began appearing in the videos with him and he no longer had to talk to himself.

Videos of the couple harvesting bamboo shoots and catching crabs, or clips of the happy couple sharing a modest meal in their home became popular with social media users. Many of their videos have reached 5-7 million views, and both his TikTok account and Facebook page have tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of followers.

Comments praising the couple’s hard but happy life became commonplace:

"Your videos have given me strength in my hardest moments in life."

"I’ve cried and felt sad and happy watching your life."

"You guys are so gentle and down to earth. If you continue doing this then you’ll be sure to sell a lot of products."

Luu Quang Dai (middle) in a still from a livestream selling produce in Yen Bai Province, Sept. 23, 2023. Photo by VnExpress/ Phan Duong

Luu Quang Dai (middle) in a still from a livestream selling produce in Yen Bai Province, Sept. 23, 2023. Photo by VnExpress/ Phan Duong

At the end of 2022, after posting a video showing the family’s mandarin orange garden, people began asking if they could by the fruit. So, Dai began selling through Facebook. Under each of his posts hundreds of people started submitting their orders.

He contacted the post office to figure out the best way to transport his produce, and then began carefully selecting each and every fruit to make sure he was shipping the best.

The mandarins that arrived in Hanoi, Thanh Hoa, and Nghe An provinces quickly garnered a reputation for staying fresh for three days or more after they arrived. After running out of mandarins, he switched to selling produce on behalf of his neighbors.

In April 2023, Dai was invited to join a program organized by TikTok and local authorities that provided classes on how to sell agricultural products on social media. They set up a stall for him, and Dai made new friends from all over the country when he joined an online community dedicated to selling online. He also learned how to build his channel and, most importantly, how to livestream.

He began enthusiastically participating in similar programs all over the country, as far north as the mountainous provinces as Bac Giang and Yen Bai, and as far south as Dong Thap Province.

With the advantage of a moderately popular account, Dai’s first few livestreams pulled in hundreds of viewers. Traditional products made by his family such as glass noodles, dried bamboo shoots, jiaogulan tea, and papaya flower tea became viewer favorites.

Even with their initial success, Dai and Xuan were still farmers unfamiliar performing for the online camera. Some livestreams didn’t attract a single sale. Nevertheless, they motivated each other to keep going.

In May, they only sold 60 orders for a total of VND14 million. The situation got better in June, when they received 408 orders and earned VND95 million. In July they received 560 orders and made VND132 million. By August, 1,300 orders made them VND365 million.

Then one of their scheduled streams ended up on the trending page even before they went live. When Dai began the stream, there were over a thousand people already tuned in.

The stream ended up selling 700 orders of jiaogulan tea in just over half an hour.

"I had to turn it off after 40 minutes because we had nothing more to sell," he says.

"Before all of this, my wife and I earned a maximum of 200 million a year, even with all of our hard work. Now with selling online, we’re able to make 150-200 million per month," he said.

At the end of last year, the couple formed a co-operative group to help other farmers sell their produce. They wanted to popularize the lesser-known specialty products of Bac Kan, a province rarely visited by travelers, all over the country. At the moment, their group has created three full-time jobs and 10 part-time jobs.

According to the vice secretary of the Bach Thong District Labor Union Hoang Thi Ha, Dai and Xuan have been regional pioneers of incorporating digital platforms into the rural agriculture business. Recently, Dai was among 10 people in Bac Kan Province to be officially recognized by local authorities for their contributions to popularizing digital transformation in less tech-savvy regions.

Looking back at how far they’ve come, the couple said that they once simply relied on each harvest season of oranges and mandarins. However, each year the prices of these fruits would inevitably go down, causing unsellable fruits to go bad. With this new way of selling online, they don’t worry anymore.

Dai and Xuan now work together in advising other farmers to seize the opportunity to make videos about their daily lives, from planting to harvest. It’s a case of "if you build it, they will come." Once a farmer’s channel is effectively designed, the customers will come by themselves, according to Dai.

For this TikToker, no matter how famous or successful he becomes, he will never give up farming.

"I can make my farming more sustainable and use more technology, but at my core, I’ll always be a humble farmer," he said in his regular unassuming manner.

Dai and his wife set up a bamboo stick as a kind of tripod to shoot a video

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