Poo power: China targets farm waste as 'clean' energy source

BEIJING •China will pay farmers to turn animal waste into fertiliser and power, the Ministry of Agriculture said yesterday, as Beijing cracks down on agricultural pollution that has for years leaked into rivers and lakes, angering residents.

China will give farmers subsidies to build animal waste-processing plants to make fertiliser or to treat manure so that it is safe for disposal, and to install biogas plants that use methane to generate electricity, according a government plan announced on Aug 1.

The plan includes setting up recycling programmes by 2020 in 200 major counties that have livestock farms. That is fewer than half the 586 counties the government says have hog and poultry farms.

The Agriculture Ministry gave no details about the size of the subsidies, but the move could be a big step towards curbing chemical fertiliser use and cutting water pollution.

"We will help the farmers fully understand how organic fertiliser can improve energy efficiency and the environment," said director Zhong Luqing of the ministry's fertiliser department at a briefing yesterday.

Biogas technology, which can help save on electrical costs, is too expensive for many farmers, unless the government helps.

Getting rid of animal waste is a major headache for livestock producers worldwide, partly because of the strong odour and damage caused to the atmosphere by the release of harmful gases. Run-off containing animal waste can also seep into the water table and contaminate rivers and lakes.

In China, how to better dispose of animal waste has become a particular problem due to the fast growth of poultry and hog farming over the past decade to meet demand for higher-quality meat. Chinese livestock farms generate nearly four billion tonnes of waste annually, according to the ministry.

The plan is part of Beijing's effort to limit chemical fertiliser and pesticides, which have contaminated soil and water. China uses about one-third of the world's fertilisers.

Beijing has said that it was targeting zero growth of chemical fertiliser and pesticides by 2020. It has urged farmers to use less chemical fertiliser and turn to animal manure instead.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 31, 2017, with the headline 'Poo power: China targets farm waste as 'clean' energy source'. Print Edition | Subscribe