China urges regions to speed up pig breeding ahead of Lunar New Year

SHANGHAI, Nov 18 (Reuters) - China’s agriculture minister Han Changfu has told officials with nine regional governments to speed up their efforts to raise pig breeding numbers, while adding that supportive measures from Beijing are starting to take effect.

According to some estimates, China’s pig population has been cut by as much as half since August last year following an outbreak of African swine fever, leading to a surge in prices.

Worried about the political implications of a shortage of pork, China’s most popular meat, Beijing has been trying to boost incentives for farmers to breed more hogs. It has also encouraged greater production of poultry and other types of meat.

In a notice on the website of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs on Sunday, Han said a recovery in pork production was vital to stabilise prices, and local governments need to work to boost supplies in preparation for Lunar New Year celebrations in late January.

Officials of nine southern regions were also ordered to properly implement central government measures to boost financial assistance and provide more land to pig farmers.

But they should ensure that zoning restrictions on pig farms are properly implemented and do not extend beyond their original remit.

Efforts by several ministries to ease the burden on farmers and support the transport of pork supplies had already boosted market confidence, the China Daily quoted Han as saying at the meeting.

The wholesale price of pork in China stood at an average 48 yuan ($6.86) per kilogram on Friday, the China Daily said, citing ministry data. It has fallen slightly since the start of the month but it remains 157% higher than last year.

China’s Vice Premier Hu Chunhua said this year that pork had an “irreplaceably important role” in maintaining economic and political stability in China. ($1 = 6.9941 yuan) (Reporting by David Stanway; editing by Richard Pullin)