By Thin Lei Win
ROME, July 2 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Millions of small-scale pig farmers across Asia risk falling into poverty due to the rapid spread of African swine fever, the United Nations warned on Tuesday.
The incurable disease, which is deadly to pigs but harmless to humans, was first detected last August in China, the world's largest pork producer.
It has since spread thousands of kilometres and "vulnerable" subsistence farmers in countries including Vietnam, Cambodia and Mongolia are particularly at risk, said the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).
Measures to halt swine flu's spread, such as limiting the transportation of pork, risks destroying the livelihoods of families who lack the expertise and funds to protect their herds, said the FAO's report.
The decline in production of pig meat, which is largely consumed by poor households, and the depletion of frozen stocks could drive up prices and further strain people's finances, it said.
"It's important that these farmers get help as soon as possible, especially as it appears the virus is not contained," said Cristina Coslet, an FAO economist.
"We've contacted our offices in affected countries and while it will take some time to get the exact numbers, we have reports that the small farmers' incomes are already affected," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation from Rome by phone.
African swine fever is highly contagious and spreads through direct contact with an infected animal or through contaminated food and objects such as farming equipment.
Currently there is no effective form of prevention but Vietnam said on Tuesday it has had initial success in creating a vaccine to fight the disease.
Small farmers producing fewer than 500 pigs for slaughter each year account for about 40 percent of China's output, according to 2016 figures from Rabobank, the Dutch financial services company.
In Vietnam, almost 10 million people depend on pig farming, said Hung Nguyen, East and Southeast Asia representative for the International Livestock Research Institute.
Of these, 60% to 70% are small or medium farms, with between one and 200 pigs, said Nguyen in a phone interview from Hanoi, Vietnam's capital.
"Some of the farmers have lost up to 200 pigs, at a cost of around $50,000, which is a lot of money for them," he said. (Reporting By Thin Lei Win @thinink, Editing by Tom Finn and Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, and property rights. Visit www.trust.org)
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