JAKARTA (BLOOMBERG) - The home of the Komodo dragon, the world's biggest lizard, in Indonesia seems to be an unlikely source of salvation for Chinese pork lovers rattled by African swine fever. But the Agriculture Ministry has different ideas.
That's because East Nusa Tenggara, comprised of islands between the tourist haven of Bali and Timor Leste, is an unusual province in the Muslim-dominated country.
The area is mostly a Christian enclave where pork makes up a large part of the diet. Plus, it is home to a quarter of the nation's 8.5 million hogs.
Growth in the local herd over the past four years means there is a surplus of pork available for export, according to Ms Fini Murfiani, director of marketing and processing of livestock products at the Agriculture Ministry.
And with a deadly virus ravaging the hog population in pork-addicted China and Vietnam, there is a major opportunity to expand shipments to those nations as well as to Cambodia and Myanmar, she said.
"The government continues to encourage businesses to expand to markets outside Singapore," she said in an e-mailed response to questions.
"The swine fever outbreak provides an opportunity for Indonesia to fill the markets" of live pigs and pork, she said.
Indonesia currently only exports live pigs from Bulan island near Singapore, meaning there is scope to increase shipments from East Nusa Tenggara as well as from the provinces of North Sulawesi and West Kalimantan, she said.
In a country where nearly 90 per cent of the 270 million people are Muslim, most of the population are forbidden from eating pork. In spite of that, the swine herd has expanded 10 per cent in the past four years to 8.5 million heads, Agriculture Ministry data show.
Hog exports were about 28,000 tonnes last year and will increase this year, Ms Murfiani said. With each pig weighing 50kg to 100kg, shipments last year could be equal to as many as 560,000 animals.
Indonesia is looking to join other nations including Canada in boosting sales. Canadian pork exports to China soared 80 per cent in March, government data show.
With Chinese tariffs on US pork still in place, Canada is importing more from its southern neighbour and shipping its own produce to China.
China's pig production will drop by 20 per cent, or 134 million heads, in 2019 because of the hog virus, the US Department of Agriculture said last month.
Meanwhile, Vietnam has culled more than 1.7 million pigs as the disease spread across the country, with officials warning it may penetrate sizable commercial farms.
In a further development, South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon said on Twitter this week that it appears that African swine fever has broken out in North Korea. Mr Lee called for strong quarantine to prevent the disease from entering South Korea through wild boars near the border.
An international response is gathering pace. The World Organisation for Animal Health will start a global initiative to control the deadly swine virus following a request from member states, the group said this week. A work programme will be established with the Food and Agriculture Organisation in coming months.