Sunday, November 22, 2020

Pigs and Poverty Alleviation in China

Muchuan County in Sichuan Province illustrates China's efforts to simultaneously boost the meat supply and fight poverty on the fringes of the Middle Kingdom. A featured prong of China's "precise poverty alleviation" initiative is to recruit companies that boost local specialty industries in the impoverished hinterland. Incorporating poor farmers into modern supply chains that tie "small farmers" into "big markets" is the initiative's core.

A stream of propaganda articles over the years described initiatives to promote swine-farming in a mountainous Leshan region of Sichuan Province as a "precise poverty alleviation" strategy. An article this month recounts construction of giant swine farms in the county by a half-dozen prominent companies and restocking of farms with local government subsidies to achieve the numerical targets for restoring hog production in the counties of Leshan. 

A September article promoted another poverty alleviation strategy by featuring the inspirational story of Wang Yong who was injured in a construction accident, but returned to his village in Muchuan County (a model county for poverty alleviation policies) to escape poverty by taking up pig-raising and growing kiwis and pepper plants. His village communist cadre helped him jump on the poverty alleviation "express train," the propagandists said.

In 2016, the Sichuan feed-producing branch of China's COFCO food conglomerate "married" a pig-farming cooperative in Muchuan County to "precisely eliminate poverty" by supplying farmers with feed and technical advice and giving them a market outlet for their pigs. The core of COFCO's 10-year agreement was to replace the chaotic network of feed traders and retailers with direct supplies of feed through the pig-farming cooperative run by village communist party cadres. The 4-year-old article is still featured on swine industry web sites, presumably under orders to promote the strategy. 

COFCO signs agreement with pig-farming cooperative in 2016.

 Nine years ago, another propaganda blast featured lending by Muchuan County's rural credit cooperatives to support "ecological pig farms." 

In 2018 Muchuan County imposed fines on swill-feeding pig farms to stop the spread of African swine fever, an indication that many pigs were not raised on commercial feed. (The 2000-yuan fine, however, is less than the sale price of a single pig.)

Leshan's leaders set a target of producing 5 million hogs annually within 3-to-5 years. Six privately-owned "dragon head" companies have been recruited to invest 20 billion yuan in 74 projects, including three 10,000-head mega farms, a high-rise pig farming facility, and a network of company-operated breeding farms (COFCO was not mentioned). A network of modest-sized farms are planned for 100-hectare parcels of land designated for forestry use. The projects typically include plans to use pig manure to fertilize fruit trees to justify use of forest land. 

Leshan's Counties refurbished and restocked pig farms that were emptied out last year in a mass-cull of pigs during the ASF epidemic. Restocking efforts included initiatives to build up 1000-head villages composed mostly of small-scale farms.

Stimulative policies in Leshan include 5 million yuan in aid to counties for farm re-stocking, subsidies of up to 200 yuan per head for pigs in several counties, subsidized loans, pig insurance, and unspecified aid for slaughter.

Leshan officials recite statistics showing they have brought in hundreds of thousands of pigs to restock farms. They don't say where these pigs came from. Most of the officially-reported ASF outbreaks this year were reported in shipments of piglets transported to places in southwest China, including two incidents in Leshan.

Company pig breeding farm perched on a hillside elsewhere in southwest China.

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