Pint-sized I pigs face extinction as crossbreeds crowd the meat market

VIETNAM - Vietnamese I pigs have been rediscovered, but even financial incentives haven’t been enough to get farmers breeding the species. Minh Huong and Lam Quang Huy find out why farmers are choosing crossbreeds instead.
calendar icon 13 March 2007
clock icon 4 minute read
My buddy and me: A Mong ethnic minority woman brings her piglet to sell at a local market. Government subsidies are encouraging farmers to breed I pigs, a dying native breed, but financial incentives aren’t enough to convince many of them.
Parade of porkers: Pigs are led to graze along the Lang Hoa Lac Highway.

The discovery of I, or the Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs in a rural coastal area in Thanh Hoa Province has erased the species from official extinction lists... at least for now.

In spite of scientists from Hong Duc University, who made the finding, using all efforts to persuade farmers to raise the animal, and financial incentives from the State, most rural families are looking to other animals and crossbreeds, which have a record of producing more meat with heavier weights.

Advantages in breeding the species, which mainly lives in the northern delta region, seem to be dwindling. Weighing in at 50-60kg, the meat the pig provides has a high fat content, which makes it suitable for banh chung, traditional Tet cakes.

But more and more people are looking to other breeds to put dinner on the table.

Nguyen Nhu Cuong from Hong Duc University said I pigs are 54 per cent fat and grease, while only 36 per cent of their bodies can be considered lean meat. And for farmers who are looking for larger livestock, a one-year-old I pig only reaches 40-50kg, while a crossbred pig can weigh between 70 and 80kg at just six months old.

With profits from the pig on continual decline, Cuong has been pedalling around the north for the past 10 years (since the last I was found in Hoang Hoa District) trying to raise farmers’ interest in the species.

Cuong’s efforts, though, have reaped no rewards. In 2003 there were 50 I sows and four boars; the current number of sows is down to 30, while the count of boars remains at four. Farmers who did take Cuong’s advice later complained about the pigs’ growth rates.

In the end, the government had to intervene to keep the I bloodline pumping. I pigs are preserved by poor households in Thanh Hoa Province with support from the state budget, who pays breeders VND30 million (US$1,875) per year and gives an extra VND300,000 to each family when a sow gives birth. They also offer to buy small sows at double the normal price.

"Even with financial incentives," Cuong said, "we still have to lean on farmers to get them involved.

"And if the government suddenly withholds its support, the species is sure to go extinct here."

Dr Dang Vu Binh, the former dean of the Agriculture No 1 University, said, "I pigs are being bred out because of customers, who demand bigger quantities of meat."

Source: VNS

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