China’s small pig farmers pose huge challenge to African swine fever battle
Even after 14 outbreaks of African swine fever across China in just over a month, pig farmer Wang Wu does not believe there is a real threat to his livelihood.
“I heard about the African swine fever thing. But then people said it was just a rumor – that it was fake news,” said Wang, who raises about 60 pigs in a village near Harbin, capital of Northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province.
In any case, the disease was only present in the south, added Wang. In fact, the first outbreak was reported in Shenyang, capital of Northeast China’s Liaoning Province. And Harbin is only 500 kilometers from Russia, where African swine fever (ASF) has been spreading for years.
The farmer’s lack of awareness of the virus highlights the scale of the challenge China faces in controlling the highly contagious disease, which has spread rapidly among the world’s largest hog herd since it was first detected in early August.
There is no vaccine for ASF and mortality rates can be as high as 100 percent. The virus is also hardy, surviving for months in pork, feed or swill. It is not harmful to humans.
In an effort to check the spread of the virus, authorities have banned the transport of live hogs from and through affected areas, sending prices in some regions soaring.
But while industrialized pig producers in China have locked down their farms, canceling leave for staff who live onsite and reducing feed deliveries and outside visitors who risk spreading the virus to their pigs, many small pig farmers interviewed in the past week have done nothing to keep the disease at bay.
That is likely a major reason for the number of outbreaks on farms of a similar size to Wang’s, say experts.
“You have to know what the risks are,” said an animal health expert at one of China’s biggest pig producers.
“If a small farmer isn’t aware, he can’t manage those risks.”
Farmers producing fewer than 500 pigs a year accounted for 42 percent of China’s production in 2016, according to a research report from Dutch financial group Rabobank.
In East China’s Anhui Province, which has reported the most cases to date, there are still few large farms compared with other regions, said Pan Chenjun, senior analyst at the bank.
China said last month it had launched a major education campaign on how to prevent the spread of the disease.