Saturday, August 20, 2011

Pork Vs. Environment

Waste from hog housing in Zhuzhou leaks into the river

Some municipalities in China are banning hog farms due to concerns over the water pollution they create. This micro-trend reflects the bigger conflict between boosting agricultural production and protecting the environment that China faces.

According to reports, Putian, a city in Fujian Province, has formulated a new land zoning plan that will require livestock and poultry farms in certain districts to move or shut down by November 30. The stated reasons are environmental improvement and a shift toward commercial-scale hog farms.

A commentary on the Putian plan posted on many agricultural news sites argues that the restrictions on hog farms are unjustified and harmful to hog farmers. The commentator points out that the restriction is in direct conflict with a 2007 directive from the State Council which clearly stated that local governments may not prohibit or restrict hog farms on the basis on "new countryside construction" or environmental protection. According to the commentary, other cities in Fujian are setting similar restrictions. Like most other articles on this topic, it also cites Dongguan in Guangdong, the most prominent example of a city that shut down hog farms.

The commentator argues that the government should shut down factories if it is really worried about reducing pollution, but officials continue to encourage factories. He says there may some merit in the goals of reducing pollution and transitioning to larger farms, but there needs to be a well-defined process. He complains of "abuse" of small farmers. The commentator says: "After all, small farmers quitting naturally and the government forcing them out are two different concepts."

Farmers in one township of Putian complained that they received small compensation of 100 yuan per square meter for shutting down and lost their subsidies.

The Zhuzhou Evening News reported on a visit to a district of this small city in Hunan along the river where there are many hog farms raising 50 or more head. The article appeared with an announcement about the city's new environmental restrictions on hog farms, so it may be intended to drum up public support for the environmental controls.

The reporter saw dozens of sheds housing hogs, and none of the farms have waste treatment equipment. The Huangtian village had 54 farmers raising hogs. These farmers had come from other places about five years ago as "entrepreneurs." The article doesn't go into details, but these might have been farmers resettled here after their land was requisitioned for urban development.

When he visited a hog farm the reporter was confronted by a strong smell. The farm was adjacent to houses for people. The boss of the farm said they originally came from Ningxiang and had rented land to operate the hog farm for five years.

The boss's wife said they typically just shoveled out the manure. Some of the manure is used for fertilizer, but it's mostly just piled up. When there's a big rain a lot of manure washes into the river.

The reporter understood that there are about 1000 such farms in the area.

An official from the Zhuzhou veterinary and livestock bureau explains that a 10,000-head hog farm produces waste equivalent to what 70,000-to-80,000 people would produce.

An official from the Zhuzhou environmental protection bureau says the city is issuing a new comprehensive plan that will prohibit or limit the number of livestock operations in the city's districts. All livestock farms will have to undergo an environmental assessment. The environmental protection bureau will accept opinions and inquiries on the new regulation on August 22.

This is a microcosm of China's attempt to juggle conflicting priorities:

Produce more food to keep prices down. More food production damages the environment. Require environmental controls...drives farms out of business and raises the operating costs of those that remain. Oops, higher food prices.

Expand cities and build new towns to urbanize, leaving farmers landless and unemployed. Resettle the displaced farmers and put them to work raising hogs, an activity that doesn't require much land. Oops, they pollute the water.

Next fix long can we keep all these balls in the air?

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