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Covid-19 could spark revival of Russian backyard pig farms

Backyard farms in Russia may increase pork production amid the continuing Covid-19 pandemic, Sergey Kovalev, chairman of the Russian Union of Pork Producers told the local magazine Agroinvestor.

Some Russian regions have begun giving piglets to the population free of charge in order to mitigate the negative impact of Covid-19 and the nationwide lockdown introduced in order to slow down the spread of the virus on the protein consumption. If there is growth again, that is against the trend of the last 20 years, in which backyard pig population in Russia has steadily been declining.

Backyard farms usually keep pigs in relatively simple sheds, partly outdoors, with rarely any attention for biosecurity. - Photo: Henk Riswick
Backyard farms usually keep pigs in relatively simple sheds, partly outdoors, with rarely any attention for biosecurity. - Photo: Henk Riswick

Unemployment rate in Russia

The decision to distribute piglets can be seen in the context of Covid-19. Tatyana Golikova, Russia’s deputy prime minister, recently announced that the unemployment rate in Russia has doubled during the past few weeks as numerous companies were laying off staff in a bid to adjust their costs. Alexey Kudrin, chairman of the Accounts Chamber of Russia, warned that because of Covid-19, the number of unemployed citizens could reach 9 million, the highest figure during the past years.

2 piglets per person in the Kurgan region

As a result, part of the unemployed were given the possibility to run their own backyard farms, due to a lack of alternatives for other means of getting by. In the Kurgan region, located north of Kazachstan and east of the Ural mountains, all citizens are eligible for 2 piglets per person. This was stated in a press conference on May 6th by Vadim Shumkov, governor of the Kurgan region. He added that the animals would be given to people who never ran a backyard farm before, as well as those who already have backyard farms. He added that the government is passing piglets to the farmers with a feed reserve. The measure was introduced to support citizens who found themselves in a difficult situation because of the Covid-19 epidemic, Shumkov said.

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Distributing piglets could lead to a catastrophe

According to Kovalev, the idea to distribute piglets among the citizens free of charge could lead to a catastrophe in the Russian pig industry, as the efforts were made in regions never registering ASF outbreaks.

Government would have to buy back pigs

In te case of new ASF outbreaks, the authorities would have to purchase those pigs back and cull them, and this would incur losses to the regional budgets, Kovalev said. Additionally, a growth of Russia’s backyard pig population could jeopardise the anticipated growth of pork exports.

Efforts to get Russian pork exported

Russia is putting a lot of effort into getting the green light to sell pork in South East Asia, Kovalev said. The country was granted permission to supply pork to Mongolia, Hong Kong and Vietnam and negotiations with China are still ongoing. Making any moves that could worsen the ASF situation in Russia would be a bad idea, Kovalev said.

In the first quarter of 2020, Russia exported 35,000 tonnes of pork, which was 60% up compared to the same period in 2019, Kovalev said. In 2020, exports could reach up to 140,000 tonnes versus 109,000 tonnes in 2019.