Horses, pigs and climate change

Amongst the Nakhi community in China's Yunan province where small farmers, who produced food from biodiverse crop cum livestock farms, have been made to give way to large-scale industrial agro-livestock complexes

Amongst the Nakhi community in China's Yunan province where small farmers, who produced food from biodiverse crop cum livestock farms, have been made to give way to large-scale industrial agro-livestock complexes

In June this year, we were in Lijiang, Yunnan Province, China, to participate in the meeting of the Indigenous People’s Climate Change Assessment (IPCCA), which was hosted this year by the Nakhi Indigenous people of Meiquan, China, in collaboration with the Centre for Chinese Agricultural Policy. Lijiang, listed by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage site, is situated at an altitude of 8000 feet , and was an important town on the ancient Horse and Tea trading routes from China, through Tibet and into India.

The most interesting part of our visit was spending two days with the Nakhi community, one of China’s officially recognised Ethnic Minorities, in their village perched at 9000 + feet, at the foothills of the majestic Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. These villages once completely self-sufficient in food and brimming with diverse crops and animals, have now, in response to the macro-market reform era / policies of China, completely converted their once thriving agriculture livelihoods to an economy that is anchored around tourism. Lijiang and surrounding villages of the Nakhi people, are a major tourist destination for the rest of China.

We were stunned to see villages with twice the number of horses as people. Here the horses are reared to carry tourists up and down and through the hills and valleys of the region. Instead of diverse food crops, most fields have been converted to pastures to feed the horses. Many intricate indigenous agriculture methods and practices suitable for cultivating crops at these high altitudes with limited precipitation, have vanished, and people have begun to complain about the acute water scarcity and streams drying up.

Walking through the villages, we finally spotted one of the famous pigs or hogs of the region. The Nakhi women shared that till about fifteen years ago each home reared between 10-15 pigs, and women sold the young piglets earning good money. All the pork of Lijiang came from these local villages. On our visit in 2013, with difficulty we found 1 pig. Most people had sold off their backyard pigs, which was evidently a direct fallout of China’s aggressive market reform policies of the last 25 years, aimed at industrialising agriculture and livestock production.

Last year (2012), whilst participating in FAO’s Regional Policy Forum Meeting, titled “Asian Livestock: Challenges, Opportunities and Responses”, I heard the Chinese delegate proudly speak about the impact of China’s agriculture reforms which had resulted in massive expansion of the holding size of Chinese hog farms, accompanied by a rapid decline of backyard hog producers. The share of specialized household production has risen rapidly while large-scale integrated industrial units had also experienced growth. The share of hogs slaughtered on farms with less than 40 pigs declined rapidly from 73 percent in 2002 to 34 percent in 2010. In another study from Sichuan Province, it was reported that almost 32 percent of smallholders exited from pig production in just one year due to continuing rural-urban migration, rising wage costs, price volatility and high risk in the hog business due to disease outbreaks. The Ministry of Agriculture predicted a continuation of this trend where large pork production companies would soon become the mainstay of cheap pork production to feed China, with the complete extinction of small farmers and their hogs .

The lone pig in that Nakhi village is testimony of this massive global project underway to displace small farmers who produce food from their bio-diverse crop cum livestock farms and fields, not only in China, but across the global south, including here in India. In their place, large industrial agri-livestock corporate complexes are being wooed by governments around the world to set up shop, and feed the world with cheap factory farmed pork, chicken, meat, milk…….

The Nakhi community are witnessing shorter periods of snow cover, and the melting of glaciers that once covered their mountains. This is further aggravated with a tourist economy that may in the short run be economically viable, but in the long run is an ecological nightmare. The tourist economy, reported to be viable for another 30 years, has failed to build the resilience of communities to respond to the challenges of climate change, and is additionally adding to the stress of these fragile eco-systems. The IPCCA workshop, appropriately titled Reframing the Debates on Climate Change and Indigenous people, triggered reflection and dialogue between the Nakhi people and their Indigenous sisters and brothers from India, Thailand, Equador, Peru and the Pacific-North America, who asserted that indigenous people have the power to respond to climate change challenges through the resilience of their traditional knowledge.

Postscript- I failed to mention that this so-called “cheap “ food, from industrial farmed animals, is produced after destroying forests, lands, air, and waters around the world, adding to global warming , and the resulting melting snow that is being experienced by the Nakhi people, who sold their pigs, and now purchase the factory farmed pork. The concentrates to feed these factory farmed animals, have replaced fields of food some where else in the world, and then travelled thousands of miles, to feed such factory farmed animals. These products are cheap , because they do not internalise the true costs of production, nor the costs of destroying mother earth

Down To Earth