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June 07, 2010

Chinese piggybusiness

Mindi Schneider is blogging from China. She is a native Midwesterner currently living in China and working on her PhD in Development Sociology at Cornell.

Thirty years ago, there were no agribusinesses in China. Today, private domestic agricultural firms are growing in number, in market share for agricultural goods and services, and in political and economic power. Foreign agribusiness firms and transnational corporations also operate in China, through joint ventures with domestic companies and as wholly-owned operations. In the pig industry in particular, the degree of commercialization varies considerably across different regions and localities, but this form of industrial production and processing is on the rise throughout the country.

I visited a midsized commercial swine breeding and production operation in Sichuan Province last week, and from all indications, these mid- to large-scale firms are planning for even further expansion, both in terms of the number of animals they raise (whether in their own facilities or through contracts with specialized pig farmers), and in terms of market share. In Sichuan Province, the historic heart and current leading pork producing province, commercial firms produce 10 percent of the province’s pigs, and specialized household farms that contract with commercial growers raise another 30–35 percent of the total. This means that small-scale or “backyard” farmers produce 55–60 percent of Sichuan’s pigs. An industry expert shared these unofficial numbers with me, adding that compared to the figures in 2007, things are changing quite quickly. Just three years ago, commercial farms produced 5 percent of pigs, specialized farms 25 percent, and backyard farms 70 percent. In some provinces, commercial and specialized farms already control the vast majority of the market.  

In an effort to better understand how this transformation is taking place, I’m working on a series of “Chinese Agribusiness Profiles” that outline basic information about the organization and operation of some of the leading pig industry–related firms. I started with New Hope Group, IMG_5525China’s largest feed grain producer, which is headquartered in Chengdu, Sichuan Province. This, and all subsequent profiles, will be posted at my blog at www.pigpenning.wordpress.com. I hope that by starting to sketch the contours of the industry we can get a better handle on this massive transformation, and what it means for China’s farmers and environment—and for farmers and food systems in other places. Like IATP's Jim Harkness says in his last post, it’s a start!

Mindi Schneider


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