The Heavens Opened': Chinese Farmers Face Floods Depriving Their Livelihoods

The Heavens Opened': Chinese Farmers Face Floods Depriving Their Livelihoods
The Heavens Opened': Chinese Farmers Face Floods Depriving Their Livelihoods

Chinese farmer Cheng walks knee-deep in water, dragging dead pigs with him by a rope tied around their shins and lining up the swollen carcasses for disposal.

More than 100 of Cheng's pigs drowned in the floods that paralyzed China's central Henan province last week, and the prospects for those who survived are bleak.

“I’m waiting for the water level to drop to figure out what to do with the remaining pigs,” said a 47-year-old farmer from Wangfan Village, 90 kilometers north of the provincial capital Zhengzhou.

"They've been in the water for several days and can't eat. I don't think there will be even one pig left."

Cheng's farm is one of thousands in Henan Province, famous for its agriculture, particularly pork production. Torrential rains hit the province last week, causing the worst torrential flooding in centuries, catching many by surprise.

"In an instant, we have no way to survive. We have no other skills. We no longer have the money to breed pigs again," Cheng, who has been raising pigs for his entire life, told Reuters on his farm.

"It's like the sky has fallen to earth."

Across the village, where most of the 3,000 other residents also raise pigs, chickens, or raise grain, people have cleared the debris left by the retreating flood waters.

Some were pulling out wheelbarrows and crates of lifeless chickens. Dead pigs lay in the water, tied to trees to keep them from floating away. In some areas of the village, there was a strong smell of dirt and rotting carcasses.

At least 200,000 chickens and up to 6,000 pigs died in the flood, which is half the village's herd, farmers said. Across Henan, the rains have flooded 1,678 large farms, killing over a million animals.

While Chinese pig production has become increasingly intense in recent years, millions of small-scale farmers still play a major role in the country's beloved meat production.

Even after the devastating epidemic of the deadly swine disease African swine fever swept across the country in 2018 and 2019, many farmers have returned to pig farming and expanded their herds to take advantage of the high prices.

Cheng says his losses amount to about 30,000 yuan ($ 4,627.13) and is worried that he will not receive any government compensation.

In addition to livelihoods, flooding is also causing many to worry about new outbreaks of disease.

Last summer, torrential rains and flooding in southern China caused dozens of outbreaks of African swine fever, a disease that usually kills pigs but is not dangerous to humans.

"The disease problem is a much more serious problem than direct losses," said Pan Chengjun, senior analyst at Rabobank.

The swine fever virus lives for about 10 days in pig feces and water, and in manure pits it can persist for up to 100 days.

"Anything in the manure pits will be washed out and spread around," said Wayne Johnson, a veterinarian and consultant for Beijing-based Enable Ag-Tech Consulting.

Last week, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs issued guidance to local governments on preventing animal disease after the flood, including measures to dispose of carcasses and disinfect farms.

However, at this point, Wangfan farmers are not even sure they will return to farming.

“After doing this for so many years, everything disappeared in an instant,” said Zhang Guangxi, 53, who lost about half of his herd. "I don't feel like raising pigs anymore."

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