Microloans and Earthquake Recovery

Today I accompanied a representative from one of ARDY’s partner NGO’s to visit the homes of several rural borrowers, including Li Binfeng 李斌风and his family. At first glance, Li Binfeng does not look like what one would expect a typical pig farmer to look like. His tousled bleached hairdo would look less out of place on the street in Beijing, or in a punk rock band. The story of how he, his older brother, and their mother came to establish a new but thriving pig farm in the village of Da Yun 大运 this year is an inspirational one, and one in which microfinance plays a key role. “Our family has always raised animals,” Li explained to me as we stood beside one of the family’s larger pig pens, “I learned how to raise pigs and rabbits at a young age from my father.”

The family was running a large rabbit and pig farm, including over 1,000 rabbits, when the Wenchuan earthquake struck the region in 2008. The Li family’s homestead is up in the mountains and rests against a steep tree-covered slope. The earthquake shook loose rocks from the mountain top which rolled down the mountain and crushed the buildings housing the family’s pig pen and rabbit cages. The family lost most of their pigs, and all of their rabbits except one. Left with no capital to rebuild, Li and his older brother, who is married and has three children, left home to find migrant work in Guangdong. The family had taken out their first microloan from the then newly-established ARDY branch office in Da Yin 大寅 village the year before. While the two brothers did construction work and sent their earnings back home, their mother took out another microloan and slowly rebuilt the family’s pig farm.

 

Site of the the Li family's original pig pen was before it was destroyed by the earthquake. The spot has since been cleared and is used for farmland.

The two brothers just returned from Guangdong three months ago and began work on a new series of brick and concrete pig pens, which are currently about half completed. They took out another microloan and used their accumulated earnings to buy several dozen more pigs. The family is currently raising nearly fifty animals, and plans to make space for twice as many. As I spoke to the family today, with the foundation of their new enterprise already firmly set, they seemed quite confident about their farm’s future success. It is hard to imagine the heartbreak and period of incredible uncertainty that they must have experienced in the aftermath of the earthquake. Without a doubt, microloans played an important role in getting the Li’s back on their feet so quickly.

 

The Li brothers showed me around their pig farm and ran me through the basics of pig farming. When they buy piglets from the local market, they weigh only a dozen or so jin (1 斤 = 500g), and in around four months raise them to around 180 jin, which is the optimum weight to sell. I discovered today that the movie “Babe” had deceived me as to the size of pigs. Full-grown pigs are BIG, much bigger than I had expected. The Li family keeps around 8-10 pigs in each pen, and feed them three times a day. Larger-scale pig farms which can afford higher-quality feed only need to feed their animals twice a day.

Li explained to me that the strongest animals are all kept together in one pen, while the weaker pigs are kept in their own pen and given extra food to encourage faster growth. As we talked, one particularly lean pig hobbled down the walkway between the two rows of pens toward us. “This one is sick,” Li explained. They had given the ailing pig an injection of medicine and would keep him outside of the pens, apart from the other pigs, until after he had recovered.

Most of the pigs which the Li brothers bought upon returning to Da Yun will be big enough to sell around Chinese New Year, which means that they will get a higher price for them. Rather than sell to the local market, they will contact a meat processor in Chengdu, which will most likely send a truck to Yilong to transport the pigs for them.

 

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