Wires

China tries to lure small farmers back to pigs amid pork shortage

BEIJING, Dec 17 (Reuters) - China is increasing its efforts to encourage small farmers to resume pig production, an agriculture ministry official said on Tuesday, amid growing pressure to boost pork supplies after a disease outbreak decimated its national herd.

China's pig herd is about 40% smaller than a year ago, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, after deadly African swine fever swept through the country in the year following its discovery in mid-2018.

Several large producers are expanding rapidly to replenish output, but many of China's millions of small farmers are wary of restocking their farms because of ongoing risk from the disease and a lack of capital.

China - the world's biggest producer and consumer or pork - still relies heavily on small farms, with nearly 50% of its pork supply coming from farms that produce less than 500 pigs a year, Wang Junxun, an official at the ministry's Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Bureau, told reporters in a briefing.

"Accelerating production recovery at small- and medium-sized farms directly affects whether the goal of guaranteeing supplies and stabilizing production nationwide can be realized as scheduled," he said.

Wang reiterated government plans announced earlier to step up support for the nation's smaller pig farms to help production recover more rapidly. That includes setting up agreements between leading corporate farmers and local governments to help small farmers with production.

Beijing is also urging big farmers to provide financial and technical assistance to smaller ones on biosecurity systems, Wang said.

China's small pig farmers have been hit hard by African swine fever, which kills almost all pigs it infects. After seeing their entire herds wiped out, many farmers have been left with large debts.

Rabobank said in a report in November that half of China's small farms were expected to exit the pig business.

Their small size can be an advantage, however, making it easier for them to secure land in places where large corporate farmers who run intensive operations would have a higher environmental impact.

"If you partner up with big-scale farmers, you solve your problem and also the big producers' problem," Wang told Reuters after the briefing.

He said the government is helping small farmers to partner with larger producers to scale up and get bank loans.

Beijing is also looking for ways to promote biosecurity measures in place on corporate farms among smaller producers to strengthen their confidence in pig farming, Wang said.

"Let the big help the small, invigorating large enterprises while not relaxing control over small ones," Wang said. (Reporting by Hallie Gu and Dominique Patton; Editing by Tom Hogue)