Sun, Feb 03, 2019 - Page 15 News List

African swine fever might bury China’s small farms

By Hallie Gu and Ryan Woo  /  Reuters, CHANGTU COUNTY, China

“The government won’t encourage small farmers to raise pigs, that’s the direction,” China Agricultural University professor Wang Chuduan (王楚端) said.

It is a sharp reversal from the years following the 2007 blue ear epidemic, which cut production by an estimated 10 percent.

After that, Beijing gave generous subsidies to all farmers to replenish their herds, Wang said.

Corporate farmers like Muyuan Foods Co Ltd (牧原食品) and Wens Foodstuff Group Co Ltd (溫氏食品集團) are suffering too, reporting a sharp plunge in profits last year. However, with large, efficient farms and access to loans, they are able to ride out the tough times.

Beijing has repeatedly called for the scaling up and industrialization of farming to raise efficiency and quality.

For China’s livestock industry, consolidating around more efficient producers is good, Wang said.

However, for some regions it could bring an additional burden, just as the country’s growth slows to its weakest pace in 28 years.

Pig production in China’s northeast has expanded rapidly in the past few years as Beijing sought to move its livestock away from heavily populated regions and closer to grain production in the north, bringing a much-needed source of revenue to laggard local economies.

Changtu, with about 1 million people, produced 1.6 million pigs in 2016 and 2.66 million tonnes of corn, positioning it to benefit under that policy.

However, African swine fever looks set to halt, or even reverse, the trend. Liaoning’s GDP last year grew 5.7 percent, far less than its target for that year.

“I think the expansion road map will be different in the next few years; there’ll be less investment in the northeast,” Rabobank senior analyst Pan Chenjun (潘晨軍) said.

Chinese Minister of Agriculture Han Changfu (韓長賦) this week said that the government would work to reduce the effects of the epidemic on other areas of the economy and society.

Changtu farmers said that they had seen no sign of government support.

The local government has poured so much money and resources into preventing and controlling African swine fever that it risked bankrupting the county, said a county official, who declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

However, he added that declining pig production in the county would hurt local revenue.

The Changtu farmers have few options.

Bai, who is illiterate, said that after the holiday — which welcomes the Year of the Pig — she would look for work washing dishes in the city.

“The pig cycle has never really brought me down, but then the policy did,” said Zhang Haitao, another farmer struggling to get rid of his overweight pigs.

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