A government agency that uses a micro blog to help farmers sell watermelons has become an Internet sensation.
The Office for Watermelon Sales Service in Zhengzhou, Henan province, opened its micro blog on Sina Weibo, the most popular micro-blogging platform in China, on May 28. It is arguably the only government agency in China that exclusively handles watermelon sales affairs.
The office named its account "Watermelon Office" because it is simple and easy to remember, it said.
However, the name immediately aroused curiosity among netizens, many of whom said they had never heard of such a government department handling only watermelon affairs. By Thursday, the micro blog had attracted more than 22,200 followers.
A discussion among netizens focused on whether it is necessary to set up such a government agency.
Li Jianjun, a staff member of the office, said the agency was established in 2006 to help farmers sell their watermelons and increase their income. Watermelon is a major produce item in Zhengzhou and many other areas in Henan during summer and is consumed in large quantities each year.
The office is just a temporary organization comprised of staff from various government departments, and the office operates only from June to October, the peak season for watermelon sales, Li said.
Xu Fengyong, a farmer in Anyang, Henan province, suffered a big loss last year when 250 metric tons of ripe watermelons that he grew rotted on the farmland due to rainy weather, according to one news media report. The remaining 100 tons of watermelons were also stranded on the farmland due to lack of transportation, but were later sold at lower prices after the media report was published.
"Nowadays weibo can spread information more quickly and broadly, and serves better to solve the problems (facing watermelon farmers)," the office said.
A watermelon farmer who only gave his surname, Dong, said that he does not know how to use weibo, although he would appreciate help from the office.
The office said it knows that many watermelon farmers may not use weibo. "But it is very likely that their children or relatives can."
The office has designated two staff members to maintain the micro blog account, and it has invited a VIP user to be a consultant, said Han Ruiting, from the office.
"We have to reply to questions by weibo users constantly, and two people are not enough," she said. "Another three to five will join to maintain the weibo."
By Thursday, the office had uploaded more than 60 posts on the micro blog, attracting thousands of comments.
Qi Zhijing, a resident of Zhengzhou, said he appreciated that the office was using the new method to serve watermelon farmers, and said the micro blog also offers a place for residents like him to give suggestions.
The office will set up 595 special stalls in busy areas in Zhengzhou for watermelon sales this year, said Li from the watermelon office.