Guangxi bamboo rat breeders ponder fate of rodents meant for food

China | 1 Jun 2020 11:00 am

Guangxi farmer Su Lei is worried about the fate of his bamboo rats and the possibility of losing his livelihood, Xinhua reports.

He breeds more than 800 of the rodents, some 200 of which were born in the past four months. Their market value is over 160,000 yuan (US$22,400), and Su has also invested about 45,000 yuan on an 80-square-meter breeding site, with small, separate areas for the rats.

Since February, sales of bamboo rats have been suspended. In April, public opinion was sought as the country announced a revised list of edible animal species. Bamboo rats were not on the list, along with snakes.

Breeders such as Su, who comes from Gongcheng Yao autonomous county in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, are in a dilemma. They are still spending money on feeding the rodents, while awaiting a final decision on their business.

In mid-May, China's first provincial-level plan to clarify compensation awarded to wildlife breeders for the disposal of animals in captivity was launched in Hunan province.

The bamboo rat and the civet cat were among the first 14 species included in the plan, with bamboo rat breeders being paid 75 yuan a kilogram. Only those with valid breeding licenses are eligible for compensation.

The Guangxi government is still working on the details of compensation for the rat breeders.

The region is one of the areas of the country with a high number of bamboo rat breeders, with the industry enabling people such as Su and counterparts in Hunan, Guizhou and Yunnan provinces to make a living.

The Gongcheng county government has launched a program to help those living below the poverty line build up capital-for example, by breeding bamboo rats. It offers free training and loans at a discount to set up such businesses.

Su traveled to several large cities as a migrant worker before returning to Gongcheng in 2012 to join the program after hearing from fellow villagers that rat breeding is lucrative. Since then, he has lifted himself out of poverty.

His initial income as a novice breeder was low. However, after acquiring the skills to breed the rodents, he now earns about 50,000 yuan a year. For rural farmers, this is much more profitable than raising pigs, chickens and growing crops.

Su has been granted a loan of 50,000 yuan under the government program. As he currently has no income due to sales of bamboo rats being suspended, he has borrowed an identical amount from relatives to cover his costs. He feeds the rats regularly and disinfects the breeding site three times a day.

The rats feed mostly on coarse fiber, such as bamboo and sugar cane, which are found widely in rural areas of southern China. Breeders add other ingredients to ensure the correct nutrition levels.

Su is worried that it will be hard for him to find another job, as the COVID-19 pandemic has affected many industries.

"Due to my limited education, I used to do manual work. If I can't raise bamboo rats, I don't know what else I can do. I may become destitute again," he said.

Long Yichun, from Gongcheng, who owns a cooperative that buys bamboo rats from breeders and trades them with others, said: "The cost of feed is a burden for breeders, especially those who have loans. With no income during this period, you have no time to do other things because you're preoccupied with the rodents."

The local government encouraged such cooperatives to be set up to help people establish businesses.

Long has 2,000 of the rodents, and it costs him 14,500 yuan a month to feed them and employ two workers.

"Many breeders grow bamboo or sugar cane to feed the rats. If they are forced to switch jobs-for example, to grow crops-they will find such work difficult, as it requires digging up deeply embedded roots," he said.

He added that it takes about three years for a breeder to recover his or her initial outlay. In the second year, many breeders take out loans to expand their businesses.

"Those with loans who have recently escaped from poverty, or are still living under the poverty line, will be hit hard if the industry dies. Some companies have invested much more than individuals, with such sums reaching several million yuan," he said.

"For breeders, our only wish is that the compensation paid is reasonable, to reduce losses as much as possible."


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