What’s going on with high-rise pig farming in China?

That’s a lot of pork.

What’s going on with high-rise pig farming in China?
The 26-story pig farm towers over a rural village on the outskirts of Ezhou, a city on the Yangtze River. Source: Gilles Sabrié for The New York Times

China has a lot of people. Almost 1.5 billion, actually. And all of those people need to eat.

Over the past couple of decades, China’s economy has quickly developed; the average income has gone up, and so have living standards. These days, the average Chinese diet includes more meat and processed foods than before, and people rely less on grains.

But, challenges with the food supply have begun cropping up throughout the country. According to World Economic Forum, China ranked 34th out of 113 countries in the 2021 Global Food Security Index. So, it isn’t surprising that China has become the world’s biggest importer of agricultural products. It’s also a big buyer of soybeans and soybean products, corn, beef, palm oil and pork. In fact, no one in the world eats more pork than China, with the country responsible for consuming half of the world’s pork supply.

Now, officials worry that possible issues within food supply chains could cause unrest. This is because relying on imports also makes China’s food supply sensitive to geopolitical issues that may have a ripple effect.

President Xi Jinping has been known to say, “The rice bowls of the Chinese people must always be held firmly in our own hand and filled mainly with Chinese grain.” So, how can China work toward self-sufficiency when citizens have developed diets that don’t match up with the country’s food production? Well, with innovation, of course.

Chinese food producers have been working on what can only be described as vertical meat farms. Because agricultural land space for farming animals is limited, producers have started building high-rise buildings to raise pigs. Improving domestic pork production is a priority, and this is a strategic way to do just that.

A building outside of Ezhou in China is the world’s biggest free-standing pig farm, and a second identical one is being built. This enormous pig farm was built by Hubei Zhongxin Kaiwei Modern Animal Husbandry, a cement manufacturer that now breeds pigs. Once both buildings are fully packed, the farms are expected to raise 1.2 million pigs every year. That’s a lot of pork.

“China’s current pig breeding is still decades behind the most advanced nations,” said Zhuge Wenda, Hubei’s president. “This provides us with room for improvement to catch up.”