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Chinese farmers to be offered biofuel subsidies to cut farm waste

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The Chinese Ministry of Agriculture has announced that it will offer subsidies to farmers to help pay for plants to transform farm waste into fertilisers or biofuel.

Agricultural pollution is a growing problem in China, where manure, chemical fertilisers and other farm waste frequently contaminate rivers and lakes, and the release of harmful, smelly gases causes damage to the atmosphere.

The problem has been intensified by increasing demand for pork, duck and chicken over the past decade.

In response, the Chinese government has announced a plan to reduce agricultural waste, a major aspect of which will be subsidies to help farmers build treatment and biogas plants. These could transform some of the nearly four billion tonnes of animal waste produced every year in China into a renewable energy source.

Biogas plants collect methane produced by bacteria or fermentation from manure and other biological waste. The gas can be used directly as a fuel – for instance, for vehicles or to heat buildings – or can power turbines to generate electricity.

The technology promises electricity bill savings for those with the resources to build their own plants, although the introduction of government subsidies could make the technology far more widely accessible.

The size of the subsidies for biofuel plants has not yet been announced.

Subsidies will also be available for farmers to build the facilities necessary to transform waste into fertiliser, which could help cut the use of chemical fertilisers. The Chinese government has previously stated that it will target zero growth of chemical fertiliser and pesticides by 2020.

Farmers will also be encouraged to treat manure so it is safe for disposal and recycling programmes will be established in 200 counties with livestock farms by 2020. This is a just a fraction of the 586 major counties that, according to the Chinese government, have hog and poultry farms.

“We will help the farmers fully understand how organic fertiliser can improve energy efficiency and the environment,” said Zhong Luqing, director of the Ministry of Agriculture’s fertiliser department, at a press briefing.

“We will strengthen policy support and increase subsidies to support farmers to use organic fertiliser […] especially large-scale farmers, family farm and cooperatives.”

According to Zhong, farmers who research and use organic fertiliser will benefit from preferential treatment in taxation, loans, power use and rent for land.

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