The Chinese government has urged localities to be on the alert for possible animal epidemics as the snow disaster may have so weakened livestock that they may be vulnerable to epidemics like avian influenza and blue-ear pig disease.
"Livestock are vulnerable to epidemic diseases after severe weather like torrential rains, blizzard and deep freeze," warned a State Council circular from the disaster relief and emergency command center, ordering all breeding farms in snow-hit central, southern and eastern China to sterilize livestock pens.
Farmers should carefully examine their breeding facilities, clean up snow and reinforce damaged pens to secure proper indoor temperatures for livestock. Dead poultry and domesticated animals must be subject to harmless treatment and be banned from the market, it said.
No epidemics have been reported yet. But the command center has ordered relevant departments to keep a close eye on hidden dangers that might jeopardize the safety of poultry and livestock products.
A total of 19 provinces and autonomous regions have been seriously hit by snow, the worst in five decades, and even in a century in few areas, since Jan. 10. When the deep freeze took most Chinese off guard. The stock-breeding industry also reported drastic losses. In Baoji City of northwestern Shaanxi Province alone, nearly 20,000 cow, sheep and pigs have been frozen to death after 200 livestock pens were weighed down and destroyed by ice as much as 6 cm thick.
Another 9,548 mu (636 hectares) of land under vegetable production and 5,000 mu (333 hectares) of fruit trees were damaged.
In the southwestern province of Guizhou, the snow cost farmers 4.348 billion yuan (604 million U.S. dollars) in direct economic losses while livestock breeders lost another 243 million yuan (33.8 million U.S. dollars).
No national figures on the losses of agriculture and livestock are available. By Feb. 1, China has lost 53.8 billion yuan (7.5 billion U.S. dollars) to the heavy snow, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs.
After debriefing the reports of eight work teams on the damages and disaster relief in the agricultural sector on Thursday night, the command center has urged the Ministry of Agriculture and local agricultural departments to take post-disaster production as their "most pressing task".
Most of the worst-hit regions, Hunan, Hubei, Guizhou provinces and the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, provide fresh vegetable during the annual off-season between April and May. The unexpected disaster therefore has aggravated the pressure on the year's vegetable supply, noted the command center.
In some areas, power outage coupled with water constraints has made it difficult for farmers to restore and repair plastic greenhouses, livestock pens and fish ponds. Road closings also hindered the transport of farm produce and triggered feed shortages for breeding farms.
Imminent difficulties facing the agricultural and stock-breeding industries are capital and labor constraints, it said.
Quite a number of villages and households that rely on bank loans for stock-breeding found themselves insolvent overnight or financial strained for reinvestment. Moreover, youngsters who migrated into cities to work couldn't rush back in time to cope with the disaster because of road and railway breakdowns.
To deal with the situation, the government has mobilized agro-technicians and grass-root cadres to deliver door-to-door services on post-disaster reconstruction. Free seeds, fish fry and livestock have been available to farmers.
The Guizhou provincial government, which received a relief fund of 19 million yuan (2.6 million U.S. dollars) from the Ministry of Finance, had planned to use the money to buy diesel oil, fertilizers, seeds and pesticides for farmers and subsidize stock-breeding production.
The Ministry of Agriculture was asked to closely track the price fluctuations and well coordinate the supply and demand of farm produce.
Triggered by the blue ear pig disease, the prices of pork almost doubled last year and sparked an upward trend in the country's consumer prices inflation which rose 4.8 percent in 2007 and hit an 11-year high of 6.9 percent in November, well above the government target of 3 percent.
(Xinhua News Agency February 8, 2008)