08/24/2007, 00.00
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Animal diseases, droughts and floods threaten Chinese agriculture

Chinese authorities announce success in the fight against blue-ear pig disease. Pork prices drop but are up 100 per cent since the start of the year. Climate change is causing droughts in the north and flooding in the south, wiping out the economy of entire villages; yet the government does nothing.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Agriculture Ministry spokesman Xue Liang announced today that blue-ear pig disease or porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome, which had until now affected millions of animals, was now under control. He also reported lower pork prices.

In July, 47,000 pigs were affected by the disease and 13,000 pigs died, down 51.5 per cent and 35.9 per cent respectively from the previous month. Overall, this year 257,000 animals had been infected with blue-ear disease in a total of 826 outbreaks across the country.

Despite the positive note, many believe that the disease is more widespread than official figures would indicate. Pig farming is in fact conducted in some 640,000 mainland villages and many farmers typically choose not to report the disease preferring to butcher the animals to sell the meat.

In his statement to the press Mr Xue said that more than 100 million pigs were immunised, but for Yu Kangzhen, director of the China Institute of Veterinary Drug Control, the current vaccine production was still not enough to treat the entire pig population of around 500 million.

Meanwhile the average price of pork dropped last week, down 1.4 per cent down on the previous week, this according to the Ministry of Commerce. The average price had however almost doubled since the beginning of the year.

Pork is a basic staple in the Chinese diet. Its increase in price has fuelled inflation, which jumped 5.6 per cent in July, the highest rise since February 1997.

China raises about half of all pigs in the world, and imports would not suffice to meet its high demands.

What is more, Chinese agriculture is presently experiencing some of the effects of climate change: prolonged droughts in the north and disastrous floods in the south.

The government is particularly concerned that the country might not be able to feed itself by 2030

In fact China Meteorological Administration Chief Zheng Guoguang warned on Wednesday that global climate change would present formidable challenges to the mainland’s food supply.

In his opinion loss of farmland might cut agricultural production by as much as 10 per cent whilst the population will continue to grow.

Currently, drought is affecting Ningxia, Inner Mongolia, Shaanxi; even water-rich Sichuan.

In some counties in the absence of public relief (which is not required in cases of natural disaster) poverty has pushed farmers to become labourers or beggars.

In the south, the main problem is instead flooding.

And livestock is expected to consume more than half of the mainland’s crops by 2030.

The uneven distribution of benefits from China’s economic growth, especially in rural areas, has made matters worse. Not only do farmers get little out of the boom, but they are very often victims of local officials who arbitrarily seize their land for industrial development with serious consequences for the environment.

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