Read Household income diversification and the production of local meat: the prospect of small-scale pig farming in Southern Yunnan, China text version

Area (2008) doi: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2008.00873.x

Blackwell Publishing Ltd

Household income diversification and the production of local meat: the prospect of smallscale pig farming in Southern Yunnan, China

Harvey Neo* and Li-Hui Chen**

*National University of Singapore, 1 Arts Link, Singapore 117570 Email: [email protected] **Yunnan University, College of Resource, Environment and Earth Science, Kunming, China 650091 Email: [email protected] Revised manuscript received 30 October 2008 This paper assesses the viability of small scale, specialised livestock farming led by the local government, to alleviate rural household poverty. In so doing, it reflects upon the prospect of niche livestock farming in an age where, ironically, demand for meat is ever-rising. It also highlights the ambiguous role that local government plays in poverty alleviation. The specific case study is on the Jinuo ethnic minority in Xishuangbanna autonomous region, located in Southwestern province of Yunnan, China. It is argued that thus far the Jinuo minority have had modest success in rearing indigenous pigs due to a confluence of factors. Nonetheless, a growing market will likely result in some degree of intensification in the production process that goes beyond the means of the upland farmers but will be eagerly exploited by the local government. If the pig rearing scheme is to remain an effective income diversification strategy in select marginalised mountainous communities, the march towards commodification, expansion and intensification, as well as the unchecked ambition of the local government, have to be carefully moderated. Keywords: China, development, livestock, income diversification, farming, governance


More than 20 years ago, this journal published a short research note urging practitioners to redefine agricultural geography as the geography of food (Atkins 1988). This clarion call sought to broaden the scope of agricultural geography and suggested several ways of doing so. These include redressing the `unfortunate neglect by agricultural geographers of the rural development in poor countries' and exploring the role of food systems in developmental processes (Atkins 1988, 281). These foci are equally valid today. This paper discusses the viability of small-scale livestock farming of a specialised meat, led by the local government, to alleviate rural poverty through household income diversification.

In particular, it shows how the long-term prospect of small-scale livestock farming can be compromised by local governments in a nascent market economy who are drawn into the livestock industry. The twin focus is thus on the peculiarities of small-scale livestock farming and the ambiguous role that local government plays in developmental processes. The specific case study is on the Jinuo ethnic minority in Xishuangbanna prefecture, located in the Southwestern province of Yunnan, China1. Following this introduction, we will briefly discuss the literature on livestock production, focusing on two aspects pertinent to our study: the importance of livestock farming in rural households and niche livestock farming. A brief background on pig farming in China will also be given. We then introduce our

Area 2008 ISSN 0004-0894 © The Authors. Journal compilation © Royal Geographical Society (with The Institute of British Geographers) 2008

2 Neo and Chen field site, highlighting its geopolitical significance, as well as its relative poverty and developmental difficulties. Following that, we will describe the efforts made by local authorities to encourage the Jinuo minority to breed the Diannan Small Ear pig. We then reflect on the future challenges of this scheme before concluding. (mad cow disease and avian flu), increasing attention has been turned to alternative forms of meat production. The latter not only refers to `safer' and more organic ways of livestock farming, it often extends to an explicit preference for indigenous breed of animals, as opposed to commercial breeds. In thus `localising' livestock farming, the relationship between `place', `product' and `consumer' also becomes more intimate than `conventional' livestock farming (Ilbery and Mays 2005). Such niche products can thus appeal (and marketed) to a more discerning group of consumers. Key issues that emerge in the literature of smallscale livestock farming hence include the viability and acceptability of small-scale livestock farming in rural communities (Mann and Kogl 2003); the importance of small-scale livestock farming in alleviating environment and food safety concerns (Hall et al. 2004); and the production of and preference for `local' breeds of animals in small-scale livestock farming (Yarwood and Evans 2006). Interestingly, the role of the local government in livestock development of varying scales has often been viewed unproblematically as either enabling or restrictive. Our research points to a more ambivalent form of local governance that seemingly promotes small-scale livestock farming as a poverty alleviation measure but worryingly demonstrates considerable potential to undermine such efforts at the same time.

Livestock and livelihoods in the age of intensification

Intensified production is increasingly the norm in the livestock industry (Nierenberg 2005). For example, Furuseth (1997) in his study of North Carolina's pig industry argues that not only has production risen, there is also a more focused geographical concentration in the distribution of pig farms. The latter has also seen its numbers decreasing; in other words, more meat is produced by fewer farms in fewer places. This is largely the result of local economic boosterism and strong agricultural interest group, leading to `a climate where county and municipal leaders avoided or ignored the negative externalities surrounding industrial structured hog production' (Furuseth 1997, 402; see also Matisziw and Hipple 2001). In this way, local governments are often enablers in the development of livestock industry. While such changes in the livestock sector reflect the economic restructuring of a Fordist regime, they have significant social-political ramifications too. Reflecting on the industrialisation of the rural pig industry in Iowa, Goldschmidt notes that the `sense of community, the ideals of mutuality and the social value of civility' are eroded by the changing systems of production (1998, 185). The latter includes `subcontracting' in the livestock industry where `activities are "lifted out" from local social control and then recombined across larger units of time and space' (Novek 2003, 568) and where smaller farms' autonomy is increasingly eroded as they are entrenched to become the little nuts and bolts holding up the wider intensification process. Against this broader climate then, the promotion of small-scale livestock production is a contrary trend. Yet, non-intensive small-scale commercial livestock production has always had an important role in the rural developmental process. Moreover, the intensification of meat relies on a relatively high level of technical and infrastructural competence that is not yet readily available in less developed regions. In recent years, not least because of highprofile health scares concerning factory farming

Pig production in China

It is estimated that China ­ the world's biggest consumer of pork ­ had close to 541 million pigs in 2006 and accounts for between 45 and 48% of the world's pork production each year (Pig International 2007, 12). Yet, compared with other major pigproducing countries, China's pig industry is relatively undeveloped. Data released by the Chinese agriculture ministry in 2002 put the number of pig `farms' in China at an astounding 105 367 514 (Pig International 2005, 11). For the most part, such farms produced just two to three pigs for sale each year. As recent as 2002, only 4132 farms have production levels of more than 3000 pigs a year (Pig International 2005, 11). By 2005, farms which produce less than 100 pigs a year still make up 70% of total output (Yin 2006, 22). In other words, the long history of rearing pigs (and other livestock) for household supplementary income has persisted and the age of intensification and factory farming has not reached Chinese shores yet.

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Small-scale pig farming in Southern Yunnan, China Among China's 22 provinces, the top seven producers of pork are (in descending order) Sichuan, Henan, Hunan, Shandong, Hebei, Guangxi and Yunnan. Apart from the absence of producers from the North and Northwest of China, there is not a distinct regional concentration in spatial distribution. In terms of the specific breeds of pigs that are produced, cross breeds between non-native pigs are not uncommon (Zheng 1985). As early as the 1920s, reformers have sought to improve local breeds with superior Western ones (Schmalzer 2002), although presently, `there is a lack of data about the percentage of the total market taken up by "western" or pink-pig pork ­ as opposed to the amount retained by the 40 or so popular native pigmeat breed . . .' (Pig International 2007, 19). To be sure, many indigenous breeds of pigs are well known regionally, if not nationally. These include the Jinhua pig, famed for its cured meat (Jinhua ham), the Taihu pig and the Wenchang pig. The latter, along with the South Yunnan Small Ear pig (known variously as Diannan Small Ear pig and Small Winter Melon pig), is found in Southwest China. The Small Ear pig, in particular, is highly confined in its distribution, available only in southern Yunnan province. Given its rich diversity, China has long recognised the importance of protecting native breeds. While appreciating the fact that `a wellplanned and systematic crossbreeding programme may be essential for exploiting hybrid vigour to increase productivity', it also recognises that

inadequate or uncontrolled crossings with many exotic breeds at the same time, or among the hybrids of unknown origin, would gain nothing in genetic progress. And even worse, they might ruin the genetic purity of the native breeds. (Zheng 1985, 210)


Sachs bought over the largest pig producer in China, Shineway (Shuanghui), in 2006 for US$328 million, with the aim of expanding and modernising the pig production process. We acknowledge such a tendency but nonetheless argue that, given the right context, there remains space for smallholders to survive in the imminent livestock revolution in China. Not unlike the developments in wealthier nations, niche production of indigenous breeds of pig can meet the more discernible taste of a growing Chinese middle class in a segmented meat market. Moreover, such a development can potentially alleviate the poverty of rural villages, while at the same time extracting little pressure on both household resources and the environment. It is with this latter hope in mind that local authorities have encouraged marginalised minorities to partake in small-scale livestock farming. This is an initiative which appears to dovetail well with the broader developmental strategy of Western China. Moreover, as described earlier, `backyard farming' is also not an unfamiliar concept to the Chinese. In the next few sections, we will lay out our case study.

The Jinuo ethnic minority and the `Great Western Development'

One of the poorer provinces in China, Yunnan in the Southwest of the country, is an ethnically diverse province bordered by Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar (Figure 1). Mountainous and semi-mountainous regions make up almost 94% of the province's 394 100 km2 land area. One third of its 42 million people are ethnic minorities and of the 2.48 million people living in absolute poverty in the province, 87.1% live in mountainous and semi-mountainous regions. The inaccessibility of the Yunnan highlands is one protracted problem in the province's quest for economic development. The Jinuo minority was granted bona fide minority status as recent as 1979 ­ the last of China's 56 ethnic minorities to be officially recognised. They are also the smallest minority group in China, numbering less than 20 000 ­ almost all of whom live in the uplands of the Jinuo mountain and its surroundings in the Banna prefecture (Figure 2). The Jinuo people speak their own language but have no written script. As both the smallest and the latest to be `acknowledged', the Jinuo people were the especial focus of provincial authorities and central government to help them out of abject poverty. Former Chinese Communist Party (CCP) chairman and Chinese

Thus, among other measures, indigenous breeds have been accorded protected status to ensure that their stock remains unadulterated. For example, in 1993, the Small Ear pig was declared a national level 2 protected species. On the whole, native pig breeds in China share some common features: they are highly adaptable to harsh environments and are able to consume roughages. However, with most breeds having average litter sizes of eight, they are generally low in productivity (Zheng 1985, 165). The still slow but eventually inevitable `structural shift to larger and more efficient units catering to the demand from the country's towns and cities has tended to push smallholders aside' (Pig International 2005, 11, emphasis added). For example, Goldman

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4 Neo and Chen

Figure 1

Map of Yunnan

Figure 2

Map of Xishuangbanna Autonomous Region

Area 2008 ISSN 0004-0894 © The Authors. Journal compilation © Royal Geographical Society (with The Institute of British Geographers) 2008

Small-scale pig farming in Southern Yunnan, China

Table 1 Comparative wealth of counties, province and country (2005 figures) China GDP per capita (in yuan) GDP per capita of farmers (in yuan) Source: Lu (2007, 41) 13 943 3255 Yunnan province 7833 2042


73 critical counties 3971 1461

president Jiang Zemin even made a high-profile trip up the poverty stricken Jinuo Mountains in 1989 where he exhorted: `Our Jinuo brothers must be made prosperous as soon as possible' (Zheng et al. 2007, 16). The developmental difficulties of the Jinuo are not unique among the ethnic minorities in Yunnan (see Cheng 2003 for a case study of the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region), the relative poverty of Yunnan, particularly among its ethnic minorities, has been recognised as a problem by many researchers and policymakers (Zhou and Qin 2008; Duan 2006; Li 2006). Lu Sufen, from the Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences, has highlighted three key reasons for the persistent poverty of the province (2007, 39 ­ 40). First, the living environments are harsh: the mountainous terrain of the province exacerbates the impacts of natural disasters like flooding, landslides and slope failure. Second and partly as a consequence of the harsh environment, infrastructural development has been inadequate, particularly in the border towns of Yunnan. For the latter, there has been a traditional reluctance to develop such potentially `unstable' places. Third, social and educational development of many regions in Yunnan has been slow. In Yunnan, all 31 ethnic minorities (of which 15 are found exclusively in the province) have not undergone any of the (positive) modernisation processes that occurred in other parts of China for the past 50 years. To put it simply, these minorities remain `backward' with, for example, literacy rates especially low at an average of 3.95 years of formal schooling, compared with the province average of 6.3 years. The provincial government has thus identified 73 `critical counties' that are in need of developmental assistance. Table 1 shows the gross domestic product per capita of residents and farmers in China, Yunnan province and the 73 counties. As seen from Table 1, the gap in wealth between peoples and between places can be very significant. Fupin (poverty alleviation) thus remains a guiding policy in managing the minorities. Two of the most impoverished minorities, the Jinuo and the Bulang, have received a total accumulated sum of 55 million

yuan (US$7.76 million) in the year ending 2006 for a host of comprehensive poverty alleviation schemes. It is said that the average incomes of the Jinuo and Bulang minorities have risen from 800 yuan (in the year 2000) to 1614 yuan (in the year 2004) for the former and 550 yuan (in 2000) to 953 yuan (2004) for the latter (Guo 2007, 57). The entrenched poverty of Banna is often conveniently attributed to its challenging natural environment in a deterministic manner when it has significant socio-political roots as well. To elaborate, state socialism after 1949 dismantled the socio-economic foundations of the ethnic minorities in favour of a central planning system that resulted in total dependency on the State (Riskin 1991). However, with the advent of marketoriented reform in the late 1970s, the minorities are progressively denied overt state subsidies and drawn inevitably to market-oriented activities, which few have really reaped benefits from (Eng 1998). This is despite (or perhaps, because of ) the ambitious plan of the Central Government to bring these marginalised regions and provinces up to par with its `Great Western Development' (xibudakaifa) policy, first officially articulated in 1999. In brief, this is `a long term project . . . focusing on improving infrastructure, providing incentives for investment, protecting the natural environment, forging economic adjustment, nurturing human capital and sectors with a comparative advantage and aiding the poor' (Lai 2002, 458). Under this broad directive, a gamut of policies (both macro and micro) has been implemented in numerous regions in the West, and Banna is a prime example of this. The Banna economy has always been rooted in agriculture and to a lesser extent, tourism. Fupin measures have thus been focused, first and foremost, on encouraging the minorities to cultivate particular crops. By the 1990s, the dominant cash crops in the region are rubber, sugarcane and tea. Nonetheless, the limits of such crops in alleviating poverty have long been recognised, not least because market prices for them can fluctuate dramatically. Chapman (1991), in his study of Yunnan rubber plantations,

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6 Neo and Chen has also very early on queried the long-term benefits of rubber to small family farms who have to increasingly compete with bigger and often state-run enterprises. Concomitantly, limited labour availability and minimal technological investments have seen small holding crop production stagnating in Yunnan (Li 2006; Li and Mong 2001). Besides agriculture, tourism has also been heralded as a way to alleviate poverty. Such a strategy no doubt attempts to leverage on the cultural diversity of the region, and tourism in fact accounted for 14.6% of the region's income in 2004 (Duan 2006, 99). Specifically, the Jinuo people have been subjected to an `experiment' to `sell' their culture via a `showcase village'. The particular village in question, the Baka village, morphed into a demonstration village for tourists to appreciate Jinuo culture in 2001. Among other things, a Jinuo museum was built in the village and the young people in the village were encouraged to perform traditional song and dance and demonstrate their traditional crafts-making. Unfortunately, this initiative was an unambiguous failure. For one, the tourist numbers were never high enough. Coupled with this was the distinct lack of interest on the part of the villagers. The venture collapsed by 2005 (Zheng et al. 2007, 17). This experience highlights the need for poverty alleviation measures that are not implemented topdown from authorities and the importance of local support. Moreover, it demonstrates the significant degree and the haphazard manner in which local authorities intervene in developmental processes. With the failure of the cultural village behind them, the city authorities of Jinghong next embarked on a pilot scheme to help villagers diversify and supplement their household incomes through rearing an indigenous breed of pig: the Diannan Small Ear pig2. The next section will trace the genesis of this scheme. Following that, we highlight some problems with this scheme, including the ramifications of state institutions that are particularly keen to exploit the fast growing transitional economy. took several trips up Jinuo Mountain to meet informally with villagers who are participating in the Small Ear pig rearing programme. The Jinghong Agricultural Department introduced the programme to the Jinuo people for several reasons. First, it believes that rearing Small Ear pigs will not demand too many household resources from the villagers, whose main economic activity hitherto has been tea and rubber plantations. Second, it believes that there is an untapped market in this indigenous breed of pig. Last but not least, because of the proximity of Jinuo Mountain to the city itself, it envisaged transportation of the pigs would not be too much of a burden. Nonetheless, our conversations with the agricultural department officials suggest that a comprehensive feasibility study was not done to gauge villagers' receptivity and long-term commitment to the programme. For example, interest could wane if the supplementary income from rearing the pigs becomes stagnant and/or gradually makes up an increasingly smaller component of household income. Indeed, the officials try to downplay the absence of such a study by asserting that the programme is `work-in-progress'. The Jinghong Agricultural Department itself has a Small Ear pig holding farm located nine km from the city. The farm was established in 1980 with the explicit aim of protecting the genetic purity of the species. Currently, the farm has an average of 500 plus pigs (including 100 odd sows). The Agricultural Department also owns a non-operational farm in the neighbouring town of Menghai. The 10 000 pig capacity farm was built in the late 1980s and was meant to rear conventional pigs. In 2006, recognising a demand from well-off city residents for organic (wugonghai) meat, the Agricultural Department established a specialty butchery in Jinghong city to sell the Small Ear pig meat. To ensure a ready supply of pigs and as part of a fupin measure by the city authorities, the Agricultural Department encouraged the Jinuo minority to rear the pigs from fallow to finish. The pigs are then sold to the Department for sale at the city specialty butchery. The Department not only dispenses advice on how to rear the pigs but also provides each interested household a pair of sows and several piglets free of charge. They also offer interest-free loans for the villagers to build sheds to rear the pigs. The startup cost to the scheme is about 700 yuan and usually about five households pool funds to rear the pigs. The Department also provides an insemination service through a travelling boar.

The commercialisation of the Small Ear pig

In the summer of 2007 and February 2008, we visited Jinghong city and Jinuo mountain (Figure 1). Jinghong city is the largest city in Banna and about 540 km away from the provincial capital, Kunming. Through personal contacts, we managed to speak to officials of the Agricultural Department of Jinghong city to understand the status of this scheme. We also

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Small-scale pig farming in Southern Yunnan, China


Figure 3

Map of Jinghong and Jinuo Mountain

By 2007, two villages (Baya Laozai and Jiama) located on opposite sides of the Jinuo Mountain had taken up this offer, both of which we have visited. In addition, six other villages in the neighbouring town of Menghai have also participated in the scheme to varying degrees (Figure 3). In all, the eight villages produce over 80 pigs for sale a month.

The pigs are very easy to rear and we don't have to put in much time or money to rear them. We give them (commercial) feed for the first two months and that costs some money but after that for the next five or six months, we just give them banana trunks, we made them into pulp. When they are ready, someone (from the Agriculture Department) will come collect them. So it's not complicated.

Rearing Small Ear pigs for household income diversification: problems and prospects

Of the two villages in Jinuo Mountain, Jiama village has a higher take up rate for this scheme. Of the 27 households in the village, 26 have started to rear Small Ear pigs (Baya Laozai has only eight out of 77 households joining the scheme). This rate is by far the highest among the eight villages involved in the rearing of the pig. The high take-up rate is mostly due to the personal relationship that the village head has with the Jinghong Agricultural Department, with the former supplying (cross-breed) Small Ear pig to one of the department officials on an ad hoc basis. Most of the households have about four to six standing pigs each, with several having up to 10. When asked what attracted him to rear the Small Ear pig, a villager from Jiama answered:

Clearly, the villagers have taken to rearing the pigs quite naturally, unlike the previous high-profile `showcase village' experiment. This is despite the fact that both were top-down initiatives and recognised as such by the villagers themselves. Moreover, because of the ease in rearing the pigs, no particular member of the household was unduly taxed and there was also no apparent gendered division of labour within the household in the rearing process. Indeed, rearing pigs is the only economic activity that they have outside of their main sources of income (tea and rubber). All six households we spoke to in Baya Laozai as well as the four we spoke to in Jiama estimated that the Small Ear pigs increased their household income by between 5 and 15%. Both the big and micro varieties are reared by the villagers. The former can grow up to a maximum of 100 kg for boars and 110 kg for sows (China Genebank 2005), although the slaughter weight of

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8 Neo and Chen the pigs is about 50­60 kg on average (compared with the country average of 78 kg); while the micro variety can grow up to 25 kg (for boars) and 35 kg (for sows). The slaughter weight for the micro variety is about 15­18 kg. The slaughter ages for the big and micro varieties are 9 and 7 months, respectively. While the physiology of the Small Ear pig (e.g. low prolificacy) presents distinct disadvantages compared with other commercial breeds, it is priced about 30% more than the latter. Price for each variety of pig ranged from 300 to 700 yuan, with the micro variety fetching more per kilogram. In Jiama village, we met the most successful farmer who managed to sell a total of 27 pigs in 2007. He is keen to expand his operation but feels hampered by the lack of space to enlarge his current pig shed. He explains: `Here in the mountain, I cannot hope to have a big farm, it is impossible. We need to be on the plains to do that'. One Agricultural Department official frequently reminded us that this scheme was conceived as a supplement to farmers' income and not to turn them into full-time pig farmers. With only one sales point selling two to four pigs per day (depending on supply), the demand for the Small Ear pig far outstrips supply and the meat is often sold out even before 9 am. The Agricultural Department has successfully marketed the Small Ear pig as a safer, more delicious meat that is not only pure breed but purely bred. As one official explained:

The consumers take to Small Ear pigs easily. They know how commercial pigs are bred and how contaminated with hormones and chemicals they can be. Small Ear pigs are more natural and safer. It is our indigenous pig. We don't need to do much advertising at all. Everything is done through word of mouth. The potential for this meat is great. Right now, if we have enough supply, we could even sell it to Kunming or overseas. It has a lot of potential.

Nonetheless, our research throws up a few problems in this nascent scheme. First, the villagers in general have not yet treated the scheme as a bona fide economic activity. Many villagers that we spoke to ended up eating their own pigs or giving them away to friends and relatives. In other words, there is a tendency, likely because of the small-scale nature of the initiative and the fact that sale of pigs has only supplemented income by a small extent, for the villagers to treat the pigs as livestock for personal consumption. This is aggravated by the fact that no formalised contract exists between the villagers and

the Agricultural Department on the number of pigs each household must (re)sell to the Department. Second, the Agricultural Department officials claim that many villagers are not fully cognisant of the `special status' of the Small Ear pig ­ often lamenting that the pig grows too slowly and expressing preferences for Western or mixed breeds. This is confirmed by our interviews with the farmers, particularly those who believe in the long-term prospects of raising livestock. We suggest that they should be made aware that had they reared conventional pigs and not this indigenous breed, they would not have been able to compete in the market. Third, believing the immense potential of this meat and recognising the limited supply coming from the villagers, the Agriculture Department have begun to consider rearing the pigs themselves on their own farms. This is perhaps the most intriguing of our findings. In 2007, the Department made an open call for investors to help expand the Small Ear pig industry, with an injection of up to 15 million yuan (US$2.1 million). It is an ambitious plan that aims to capture 5% of the high-end pig meat market in Yunnan province where demand is estimated to be 6000 pigs per day. Hence, the planned daily supply of the Small Ear pig is 300 per day ­ a drastic increase from the two to four that they have presently. Along with this increase, the plan calls for up to 100 specialty butcheries to be set up in the major cities of the province (e.g. Kunming, Dali, Yuxi and Chuxiong). Regardless of whether the Agricultural Department is able to attract investors and expand, the fact that such a plan is conceived indicates that the intensification tendency of the livestock industry does not exempt organic and niche breeds. Furthermore, it raises valid scepticism on the intentionality and integrity of using niche livestock farming as an income diversification scheme for marginalised ethnic minorities3. Should the planned `industrialisation' of the Small Ear pig be successful, it is likely to jeopardise the existing informal arrangement between the Agricultural Department and the upland Jinuo people. Ironically, should that day come, the `mass production' of the pigs would be held as a shining example of the `Great Western Development'. For now, it is safe to say that the Great Western Development is a rhetorical umbrella shading all kinds of socioeconomic development ­ big or small. Moreover, the case study of the Jinuo ethnic minority suggests that the modest localised scale of

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Small-scale pig farming in Southern Yunnan, China economic reproduction may not be the favoured developmental strategy in the eyes of an `enterprising' local government.



Thus far, the Jinuo minority have had modest success in their rearing of Small Ear pigs as a result of a confluence of factors. The growing purchasing power of Chinese urban consumers allows a niche market for high-end pork. Moreover, in the face of sporadic food scares in China, this niche can only grow bigger. That the Small Ear pig is a relatively rare local breed found only in Southern Yunnan has further cemented its exclusive status. Nonetheless, this study throws up broader questions about `product' versus `process' in small-scale livestock farming. In other words, the tensions and contradictions in `modernising' processes to meet the growing demand for (niche and local) meat is one area that needs to be examined further. Would the `product' lose its lustre and innate advantage given a higher level of mechanisation? How would changing production methods modify consumers' perceptions of the breed? It is likely that the key selling points of the product (i.e. it being a `pure' and `local' breed) would be diminished by such modifications. In this way, the specificities of production process remain a critical link between producers, product and consumers. This suggests that any plans to mass produce the pig could compromise the hitherto modest success of the meat. More importantly, for the Jinuo minority, a growing market underpinned by intensification in the production process clearly goes beyond their means. To make matters worse, in an erstwhile socialist China keen on building a market economy, local governments have been eager to find ways for revenue generation. Any intensification processes are likely to be dominated by the very local government that is supposed to sustain poverty alleviation schemes. Clearly, if the pig rearing scheme is to remain a sustainable poverty alleviation strategy (or even as a modest income diversification scheme) in select marginalised communities, the march towards commodification, expansion and intensification, as well as the unchecked ambitions of the local government, have to be carefully moderated. Acknowledgement

The authors would like to acknowledge the support given by the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, National University

of Singapore (research grants R-109-000-082-133 and R117-000-012-133). Harvey Neo is grateful for the insightful discussions with his colleagues at the `Political Economies of Regional Transformations in Asia' research group, Department of Geography, National University of Singapore. Feedback obtained from the participants at the special session on `The Political Economy of Livestock Industry' at the Association of American Geographers Annual Conference (Boston 2008) is very much appreciated too. The authors also thank the critical comments given by the anonymous referees.


1 In keeping with local convention, we will refer to Xishuangbanna as Banna. 2 The Small Ear pig is one of the 40 indigenous breeds of pig in China (Zheng 1985). While the Small Ear pig can be further subdivided into big and micro sizes, both are characterised by a low-set slightly concave back, short neck and a pendulous belly that nearly touches the ground. It has tender meat and thin bones and skin. The pigs are not fussy eaters and are commonly fed with mashed trunks of a local banana species by the villagers. They are not particularly prolific, producing three litters every 2 years for a total of 9­10 piglets per sow per year. In contrast, the average figure in China is 13­14 pigs produced per sow per year (Yin 2006, 23). 3 We are grateful to one of the anonymous referees who pointed this out.


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Area 2008 ISSN 0004-0894 © The Authors. Journal compilation © Royal Geographical Society (with The Institute of British Geographers) 2008

10 Neo and Chen

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Area 2008 ISSN 0004-0894 © The Authors. Journal compilation © Royal Geographical Society (with The Institute of British Geographers) 2008


Household income diversification and the production of local meat: the prospect of small-scale pig farming in Southern Yunnan, China

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