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300 Million Chickens Facing Feed Shortage in Hubei

Originally published in Sanlian Lifeweek(三联生活周刊) on Jan. 31th, 2020

Affected by the lockdown of cities, more than 300 million chickens in Hubei province are about to run out of feed, according to Hubei Poultry Association. The poultry association mentioned in a letter that, as Hubei's inbound and outbound transportation was already interrupted, the supply of poultry feed and raw materials for producing feed was basically paralyzed, and they called for urgent support from state-owned manufacturing companies.

When hot topics on hardcore "speeches" by village secretaries as well as local-flavoured banners and slogans calling for fight against SARS-CoV-2 (formerly known as 2019 novel coronavirus, 2019-nCoV) sweep across the Internet, attention shall also be paid to the winding roads in the farm fields, and this is a part of ensuring a functioning social system. The most intuitive connection is that, such winding roads are critical to the stability and order of "shopping basket program" (non-staple food supply project). Only when the non-staple food is produced, transported, and supplied, can the functioning of the grassroots society be maintained to the greatest extent in the current SARS-CoV-2 outbreak situation, thus to reduce economic losses.

Reporter | Yang, Lu (杨璐); Li, Xiaojie (李晓洁)

Translation | Chengji Translation Team

"New Year Visits Do Harm to Others, Dinner Parties Are to Court Death"

Feed bottom out due to road-blocking

Zhou Ping, a truck driver from Xiantao, spends most of his time delivering feed to chicken farmers living in surrounding counties. He also owns a chicken farm. On January 30, just after the 5th day of the lunar new year, he already felt deeply worried about the situation. A couple of other farmers and Zhou Ping were elected as representatives for reporting to the government the situation that, as roads in rural areas were blocked, their chickens were about to starve to death if the feed still cannot be delivered into this region.

Upper banner: "Dropping by is Mutual Killing, Going to Parties is Suicide"

Lower banner: "All Dinner Invitations Now are from people who want to murder you"

Immediately after the lockdown of Wuhan at 10 am on January 23, other cities in Hubei followed suit, and adopted traffic control measures. In Chibi city, traffic was banned from all national, provincial and county roads. Traffic control continues to be implemented to the three bridges in the city (except approved vehicles for supply assurance, emergency as well as virus prevention and control). Violators will be fined 200 to 2,000 RMB, and meanwhile, may be held in detention for public security reasons for up to 15 days.

Besides the traffic control notice issued by the government, those small roads connecting villages to the county like capillaries have also been barricaded by villagers. Guoguo, who returned to the countryside of Chibi for the New Year, told reporters of the Magazine, "Since day one of the Lunar New Year, all roads to entrances of each village have been blocked, some with mud mounds, some with farm trucks, and others with roadblocks and railings, etc. Because vehicles are banned, people can only go out on foot or by bike. The city is completely inaccessible, there is no one walking out in the town, and shops and breakfast stalls are all closed. "

Rational road-blocking can cut off the spread of SARS-CoV-2, but roads at some places have been rudely dug up, which have hindered agricultural production. Zhou Ping said, "Under normal circumstances, in order to celebrate the Spring Festival, chicken farmers will reserve feed that may last for a period from the 24th of the last month of previous lunar year to the 10th of the first month of this lunar year. On 28th or 29th of last lunar month, we just heard about the SARS-CoV-2 in Wuhan, and roads were suddenly blocked on the first day of the lunar new year. No one has prepared feed for this special situation in advance. "The village where Zhou Ping lives is 10 kilometers from the county, and it is much closer to the suburbs of Wuhan, which is only a few kilometers away. However, as the roads to both sides were blocked, his truck could not go out to get some feed, neither could other feed transportation vehicles get in. If road blocking continues, the losses will be huge. Although Zhou Ping does not know the exact figure of chickens raised in the surrounding area, it is a huge number based on the calculation of the feed daily consumption.''10,000 chickens eat 6 packs of feed every day, and I usually deliver 1,600 tons of feed to the surrounding chicken farmers each month. There are a dozen drivers like me around our county doing the same thing." said Zhou Ping.

Laying hen farming is just one of the cases. If road-blocking prolonged, many similar problems will emerge one after another. Hubei's crayfish are famous all over the country, and farmers told our reporter that, "The biggest impact of road-blocking now is that the workers are having difficulties entering and leaving the base for feed delivery. Fortunately, the amount of feed is relatively small in this season. If the road-blocking continues to the end of February and early March, the impact on crayfish farming will be very significant. "

The SARS-CoV-2 outbreak will soon pose challenges to the economic situation. Large scale culling of live pigs, poultry and etc. due to shortage of feed supply and sales may give rise to a new epidemic outbreak, and only with a guaranteed feed supply and logistics system shall such outbreak be prevented. We should not make things worse.

SARS-CoV-2 prevention in rural areas

As the SARS-CoV-2 spreads, such road-blocking measures have been scaled up beyond Hubei Province. Funan is the most populous county in Anhui, and it is also a large county for labor export. On January 25, Zhuzhai Town, which was interviewed by this Magazine, stopped buses and agricultural shuttle buses to counties and cities. On January 26, all small roads between villages were blocked with mud, leaving only one or two main roads from each village to the town for transporting supplies and emergency services, such as sending out people who are sick.

Each village has a checkpoint on the main road leading to the town. generally formed with a few cars or simple tents. Only local vehicles are allowed to enter, and all foreign vehicles or vehicles that come to pay a New Year call are advised to return. Vehicles of the village need to be registered and passengers be taken temperature prior to entering. If a villager with a high temperature is found, the staff at the checkpoint will directly inform the town's medical staff to come and do a further inspection.

"Entry of Non Locals Prohibited"

Besides the inability to deliver feed, road-blocking brings inconveniences indeed to the lives of rural people. As the SARS-CoV-2 spreads, some people begin to complain on Weibo. The villagers in Yang County, Shaanxi interviewed by this Magazine were stopped because they tried to take a shortcut crossing another village to a hospital for pregnancy checkup. However, road blocking is indeed urgently needed. Compared with SARS, the threat to rural areas posed by this outbreak is much more serious. Large-scale SARS outbreak occurred after the Spring Festival, and the virus spread between cities. But this time, it was during the Spring Festival travel rush, the most frequent period of urban-rural flow throughout the year.

At a news conference on January 26, Zhou Xianwang, Mayor of Wuhan, mentioned that 5 million people left Wuhan, a large number of which were migrant workers returning home. The confirmed cases highly reflected this pattern. Geographically adjacent to Hubei, Anhui's SARS-CoV-2 outbreak shows the characteristics of "one fast and three highs", that is, fast growth of confirmed cases, with higher number of cases in rural areas, among middle-aged and elderly people, and in migrant workers and workers from business/service sector, announced by the Anhui Provincial CDC at a press conference on January 25.

Compared with cities, rural epidemic prevention systems are fragile. As of the end of 2018, there were still 46 townships across the nation without health centers, 666 health centers without general practitioners or licensed (assistant) physicians, 1022 administrative villages without clinics, and 6903 clinics without qualified village doctors. The Henan village doctor interviewed by this Magazine took temperature of quarantined villagers twice a day without any protection, and the villagers neither, who did not wear a mask when they saw a doctor. The doctor's daughter works in a big city, and the masks she brought home were far from enough. She tried to purchase some with the help of overseas friends, but the courier now can only deliver to the county more than ten kilometers away from the village."Every village is locked down, and road conditions vary every day. It is impossible to walk to the county from the village. "said the village doctor's daughter.

Given the condition of the current medical and virus prevention system as well as the condition of infrastructure in rural areas, road blocking is the most effective means with the lowest cost. Urban people feel it incredible when they see on the Internet that farmers are blocking roads with huge mounds and agricultural trucks, for example, some netizens have left messages asking why not to use a movable fence? People with living experiences in rural areas may understand that, there is plenty of free soil in the rural areas, and blocking road with soil is a typical use of local materials.

Cheng Cunwang is a PhD from the School of Agricultural Economics and Rural Development, Renmin University of China. He is both a researcher on rural issues and a founder of an agricultural technology company, with farms in Beijing, Sanya, etc. for practising agricultural production. Dealing with farmers and the countryside every day, he said that, behind the photos on the Internet showing roads blocked with mounds, the farmers actually have their own flexibility. One colleague in his company was trapped in a locked-down Shandong village. The colleague told the village secretary that he had to go to work, the village first filled the road to let him out, and then dug it up again. Letting go or not is not a hard-and-fast rule, and there is always room for change. This is also the ecology in Chinese rural areas.

"shopping basket program" that cannot be interrupted

Now that there is flexibility behind road blocking, villagers must be aware that the functioning of the social system shall not be hindered while cutting off the spread of SARS-CoV-2. Yang Jun (pseudonym) is the vice president of egg and feed sales for a company in Hubei province, and the hindrance to transport eggs has kept him worried recently." Just two days ago, our company transported eggs out from a county in Hubei, which is about 120 kilometers away from Wuhan. It took us 5 times of relays before we finally got the eggs out. We used a vehicle to transport the eggs to one side of the barricade, and the vehicle could not go any further. Then we manually handled the eggs across the mounds to another vehicle at the other side of the barricade before continuing the journey out. Each time we encountered a roadblock, we repeated the process of manual handling and vehicle change 5 times in total, and it took a lot of manpower to finally deliver the eggs to supermarkets in Wuhan." said Yang Jun.

The courage to lock down villages comes from the fact that the villages are self supplying units, villagers of which can sustain a long time without going out. But these small units are also an important part of the entire society, and those roads connecting villages like capillaries are also routes to maintain functioning and circulation of the society. Blockages such as "for this village only" will lead to continuous impact beyond that of the SARS-CoV-2. Xiantao is a breeding base of laying hens within Hubei province, and a farmer named Li Qiang said, "80% of Xiantao's eggs are supplied to the Hunan market, and some are sold directly to Wuhan's supermarkets and farmers' markets. According to normal circumstances, sales of eggs would have already started on the third or fourth day of the lunar new year. But this year, villages were suddenly locked down, and no chicken farmers of his acquaintance have sold any eggs . "

Old customers in Hunan do not accept eggs from Hubei Xiantao, and sales within Hubei province are also hampered. Li Qiang said, "the road to my chicken farm outside the village was blocked, the workers couldn't come to work, and the eggs couldn't be sent out.'' Even if the eggs can be transported out of the village, a pass is required to get on the expressway. However, in order to ensure transportation of medical and aid supplies, the pass is now issued only to rescue vehicles. There are no vehicles at all on the expressway except those rescue vehicles. If you don't take the expressway, you will have to go through villages, like the 120-kilometer journey made by Yang Jun 's company, crossing over 5 roadblocks and mobilizing vehicles for 5 relays. Ordinary farmers have no such resources.

Such road blocking has also basically paralyzed other cargo transportation. The head of Hubei Truck Station told the reporters that, "Due to lockdown of villages, drivers and their trucks cannot get out. Some brothers want to participate in the rescue in Hubei province, but the villages don't let people go, as they are worried that people may bring the SARS-CoV-2 back." Hubei is not the only province affected by road-blocking measures. Driver Yuan from Bozhou, Anhui Province specializes in the distribution of raw materials for a fast food chain. His last order before the Spring Festival was to deliver raw materials to Beijing on January 19, and then he drove back to his hometown in Anhui to celebrate the Lunar New Year. As the novel coronavirus pneumonia spread throughout the country, Driver Yuan said, "Our village was locked down on the second day of the lunar new year, no one is allowed to enter the village, neither are the villagers allowed to go out. I don't usually live in the village, just coming back to celebrate the Lunar New Year. And I am unable to take any order even if I can get out, because there are roadblocks in many places, and you cannot get down from the expressway once you drive up on it. I have already cancelled orders to Beijing, Wuhan and Guangzhou. "

An urgent report by the Hubei Province Pig Industry Association to the General Office of Agriculture and Rural Affairs Department of Hubei Province requesting to set up a green passage for production and transportation vehicles of pig farming companies

On January 30, the General Office of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, the General Office of the Ministry of Transport, and the General Office of the Ministry of Public Security have issued the Urgent Notice on Ensuring the Normal Circulation of "shopping basket program" Products and Agricultural Production Materials, which prohibits illegal acts such as unauthorized checkpoints as well as road and traffic blocking, so as to maintain the normal circulation of "shopping basket program" products and agricultural production materials. The "shopping basket program" is one of the most urgent and critical aspects concerning daily life and stability. It is urgent to curb the spread of SARS-CoV-2, but if it is to continue for a period of time, we need more detailed planning and guidance to the people, and should try our best to keep the society running as normal as possible, and to minimize the losses caused by the virus.