September 16, 2003



Backyard Pig Farming Changing in China


On the outskirts of the southern Shandong city of Linyi, one of China's most sacred village traditions - pig farming - is changing.

Linyi is home to eight enormous pig farms and pork processing plants, farm-factories that are part of China's quest to modernize, consolidate and industrialize rural agriculture.

Pig farming, a time-honored tradition, has roots dating back more than 5,000 years. About 70 per cent of rural Chinese raise pigs, mostly by "backyard farming" methods, raising about five animals a year to supplement their income from root crops.

However, the tradition is changing and backyard farming is slowly declining. In the mid-1980s, backyard farming accounted for 95 per cent of all pigs produced. Currently, it is about 80 per cent and industry analysts predict that within 30 years the backyard pig will be a thing of the past.

Its replacement - massive farms that not only raise thousands of pigs, but also feature a complete one-stop-shop of meat processing where the pigs are slaughtered, processed and packaged into consumer products such as canned ham and sausages.

The main factor driving the development of pig farming is China's love of pork. China is the world's largest consumer of pig meat.

The US Department of Agriculture estimated that in 2001 China consumed more than 40 million tons, or 31kg per person a year.

Demand is expected to rise by three to seven per cent in the next 10 years. China is also a pork exporter, sending pigs to Russia, South Korea and Japan.

As a result, huge pig farms are sprouting up all over China, transforming rural villages into noisy industrial centers.

In Linyi's Luozhuang village, the Jianguang pig farm raises more than 50,000 pigs and occupies more than two hectares, reshaping once-green farmland into guarded concrete block buildings.

The farm has brought economic benefits - specifically jobs. At the massive Jinlong pork processing facility in Bancheng village, the company employs more than 2,000 workers, many of whom are young village people. By paying the workers a monthly wage of about 800 yuan which includes room and board, the factories have given the local economy a much-needed boost.

However, the downside is obvious. "It stinks . . . I can't breathe!" one local farmer living next to the pig farm complained. Pig manure emits huge amounts of ammonia nitrogen, making the surrounding air noxious. The pig waste also leaches into the water table, contaminating it.

Another serious concern is food safety. Putting thousands of pigs together increases the build-up and transmission of diseases, increasing the likelihood of an outbreak, which can threaten human health.

The factories are also changing the social landscape of rural villages. "The young people are all at the factory," one local resident said. By providing the younger generation with industrial jobs, they are essentially converting farmers to factory workers.

Also, the pig factories have bought the farmers' land from village cadres. As the factories expand, the farmers will be forced off their plots and village life will change forever.

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