Thursday, January 21, 2021

China's Livestock Data in Disarray?

China's swine herd has been rebuilt to 90 percent of its normal size--so we're told by the agriculture ministry. A perusal of the web site for the organization that counts livestock reveals that Chinese agricultural officials are in the midst of a major overhaul to address dysfunction in the pig-counting system at the same time the structure of pig farming is undergoing dramatic change. Here's a hypothetical series of conversations that make some of the problems concrete:

“Hi, Old Wang. This is Zhu Bingdu from the village veterinary station.”

“Hi Bingdu. How’s it going”

“Not bad. Can you tell me how many pigs you have on your farm this month?”

“Um, I’ve got 250 right now, but I’ll be sending 50 to the slaughterhouse on Monday.”

“OK, I’ll split the difference and put down 225.”

“Sounds good. Talk to you later.”

“OK, bye.”


“Hello, Old Wang. This is Zhu Wuran from the county environmental protection department. I’m doing a survey of agricultural pollution. Could you tell me how many pigs you have on your farm?”

“Oh, I’ve got about 100.”

“OK. That’s good. My records show we ordered you to close the barns on the riverbank in 2017. Are those still empty?”

“Oh yes, of course, they’re still closed. I always comply with the government’s regulations.”

“Glad to hear it. Have a nice day.”


“Hi, Old Wang. This is Gao Daikuan from the county Rural Commercial Bank.”

“Hey Brother Gao. Did you get the box of pears I sent for the holiday?”

“Yeah, thanks. I’m calling about the pig mortgage loan we gave you last year that was secured with 2000 pigs as collateral. I want to make sure you’ve still got those pigs.”

“Oh yeah, they’re all there. And the price is still high like last year.”

“I drove past the farm last week and couldn't help noticing it was pretty quiet and I didn't smell anything. Could I come out and count the pigs just to make sure?”

“No, that’s not possible. We don’t let anyone inside the farm to keep disease out. There was just a new case of ASF reported,  you know. Don’t worry, all the pigs are there.” 

“OK, I’ll just write that down. Bye.”


“Hello, is that Zhu Bingdu at the Wang Village veterinary station?””

“Yeah. Speak up a little. I’m in a warehouse picking up some vaccines.”

“This is Chao Shuju from the county statistics office. I’m looking at the report on livestock inventories you filed. Are you sure you counted all the pigs correctly?”

“Absolutely. Everything is correct.”

“Listen, I’ve got the county finance office breathing down my neck. The province gave the county a target of 1 million pigs for the end of the year, and we’re running seriously short. If we don’t hit it, we’ll lose out on our subsidy for being a major pig county. I need you to find about 1000 more pigs in your village.”

“OK, I'll correct my report and call you back in the morning.”

“I need it now! Why aren’t you using the cell phone app we just gave you to send the data?”

“The screen freezes up every time I try to enter the password. Can’t I just call it in?”

“Alright, but I need the number today.”


These conversations are fake--just like the data--but they could be real. In September 2020, China's Ministry of Agriculture published a circular on further improving livestock statistical monitoring work. The circular admitted there are some "persisting problems":
  • A few localities don’t pay enough attention to livestock statistics work, teams are unstable, and estimates are not adequately maintained. 
  • Responsibilities are unclear in some places, with multiple bosses, resulting in duplication or omission of livestock farm registration records and other information. 
  • In some localities statisticians do not feel the responsibility of their work, procrastinating in collection and verification of data, or reporting incorrect data.
  • Some other places have multiple sets of data, confused numbers, and numbers that can't be justified, due to conflict between differing departments.
These problems "seriously affect decisions on industry management and policy, and they must be rectified and corrected as soon as possible," the circular said. 

A December 2019 article identified a number of problems with grassroots livestock reporting. The tables that village-level reporters are asked to fill out are too complex. Statistical data collectors often don't have a clear understanding of concepts such as what constitutes a "productive" female animal. Farmers keep rudimentary records that are not compatible with the detailed data to be reported on survey forms. Personnel are not paid much to collect statistics, so they tend to neglect those duties. Few people doing this work grasp statistical concepts and practices. Surveyors are now often prohibited from entering farms due to biosecurity measures, so they have to rely on data reported to them by the farmers. Grassroots statisticians often have poor computer equipment, and data frequently resides on multiple computers, making it vulnerable to loss or errors.

In recent months, China's National Animal Husbandry Station has reported a series of meetings and trainings to upgrade statistical capabilities. The web site stopped reporting all data items in 2019 or early 2020 except laying hen culls and milk station output.

In November, a national training session for counting pigs was held in Luoyang City. Training included taking responsibility for the collection, reporting, and verification of statistical data, and improving the data's timeliness and accuracy.

In Shandong Province--one of the biggest livestock and poultry-producing regions--scholars from the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences and China Agricultural University inspected the statistical system in two counties and held a "deep discussion" of the reasons behind problems and the countermeasures needed to upgrade the statistical reporting system. 

The September 2020 circular ordered grass roots statistics personnel to verify the accuracy of data on animal inventories, slaughter, meat sales, prices, vaccinations, animal health, carry out spot checks of large-scale farms and try to establish a record system for small-scale farms by the end of 2020. They were told not to report data that was illogical.
November 2020 training session for pig statisticians.

Chart showing number of sows on the National Animal Husbandry Station web site.
Data stop in mid-2019 after sow numbers plummeted 43%.


Anonymous said...

this is bloody hilarious

Anonymous said...

... the box of pears is a great touch ...

Rachel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rachel said...

Have questions re hog slaughter data.

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