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Pig Palace: Where little goes to waste

By Tian Xuefei and Zhou Huiyang in Harbin | China Daily | Updated: 2019-07-11 10:35

Raising pork comes with problems worldwide. Now, innovative Chinese farmers are using science in a circular system to improve the quality of meat and eliminate the usual pollution.

House of straw. House of sticks. House of bricks. And now the legendary Three Little Pigs can choose a multipurpose scientific greenhouse with a comfortable fermentation bed.

With its spacious, clean grounds, rows of immaculate greenhouses, pleasant trees and almost no foul odors, this is no ordinary pig farm. Refreshingly lacking is the churned-up excrement, the stench and the polluting byproducts of a traditional operation.

Inside one of the structures - which performs double duty as an upscale house for pigs and a greenhouse for growing vegetables - the unpleasant smell of swine is faint, even though the animals are milling around in the next room like guests in a swanky pig hotel.

These pigs have gone high-tech, in a nonpolluting symbiotic relationship with vegetable gardens, and the results are encouraging.

If pollution from pigs can be dramatically reduced on a large scale, it's good news for China, where 700 million of the animals were raised last year, and equally good for the rest of the world, where industrial-scale farms have been supplanting small operations for decades and bringing big waste management problems in their wake.

Lucky pigs

The Yabuli Forestry Bureau in Heilongjiang province joined an innovative project in 2017 that could pave the way for more pig farmers across China to use environmentally sustainable methods.

In a testament to the concept, around 20 similar operations have sprouted in the country since the first one in 2011, lifting pigs out of their usual squalid and malodorous hovels and giving them new accommodations in a circular natural system.

The lucky pigs now have a clean, spacious place to live and fatten up for market, in contrast to the cramped indoor conditions of many major operations. Pollution is sharply cut, and fruits and vegetables are produced - Chinese cabbage, eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, sugar beets, lettuce, strawberries and melons - with some fed to the pigs and some provided to the company cafeteria for employees. Commercial sales are expected to expand later.

Elsewhere, in many of China's rural areas, pig waste has become a significant problem, partly due to farmers' indifference to environmental protection and a lack of smart waste management techniques.

"Every day, one pig produces a kilogram of urine and a half kilogram of manure, which adds up to a very big number when thousands of pigs live together," said Lu Xinhua, who works for the forestry department.

"Between 2004 and 2007, I raised 200 pigs on a farm where three people spent several hours a day washing the pigsty, and all the untreated waste flowed into the soil and nearby pond."

Pig waste, which contains a mass of organic matter and harmful microorganisms can change the structure of soil and destroy its basic function, resulting in lower crop yields, according to one agricultural thesis. It can also pollute the groundwater that may be a region's primary water source.

And it stinks.

"Because I spent most of my time on the farm, the bad smell stuck to me even after I showered," Lu said.

With the forestry department's new greenhouses and circular production cycle, that's a thing of the past.

"This is a significant attempt to transform traditional industries to a green, low-carbon and circular economy," said Ren Liquan, director of Yabuli Forestry Bureau. "We will promote the technology in the whole bureau and even in the whole province in the future."

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