Blog Post

Food security and economic impacts of African swine fever: New FSP tool launched

In 2018, African swine fever (ASF), a deadly hemorrhagic disease found in pigs, was reported for the first time in China. By mid-2019, the disease had infected hundreds of millions of pigs—anywhere from 30 to 70 percent of the country’s swine population. Millions of pigs were culled in an effort to slow the spread of the disease, resulting in a drastic reduction in the volume of Chinese pork produced. A new study published in Nature, and an accompanying new policy analysis tool from the Food Security Portal, models several scenarios that explore the potential direct and indirect consequences of this type of epidemic on production and consumption of not only pork but also feed and alternatives to pig meat both within China and around the world.

The study uses the IMPACT model, developed by IFPRI, and a dynamic version of the GLOBE model. It examines five potential scenarios:

  1. Pig production in China remains constant (i.e., no outbreak of ASF)
  2. Production falls by 20 percent
  3. Production falls by 40 percent
  4. Production falls by 60 percent
  5. Production falls by 80 percent

As of February 2020, the authors found that the current ASF outbreak in China is best represented by the final two scenarios (production falling by 60 and 80 percent, respectively).

In the four scenarios in which an outbreak of ASF occurs, pork production in China declines by between 10 and 40 million metric tons (Mt), representing between 9 and 34 percent reduction in global production. However, actual reductions in global production are limited to 4-16 percent, tempered by increased production outside of China (particularly Europe, East Asia and the Pacific, North America, and Latin America) in response to rising prices. Compared to the scenario without an outbreak, global pork prices in the outbreak scenarios rise by between 18 and 85 percent.

As pork prices rise, demand for pork products declines around the world by between 4 and 16 percent per capita. Demand drops most in Europe, with smaller but still significant declines in North America, Latin America, and East Asia and the Pacific as well. At the same time, demand for imported pork increases in China.

Global production of pork substitutes, including other meats and plant-based meat alternatives, increases under the outbreak scenarios. Prices of these alternatives also rise: between 1.5 and 6 percent for beef and between 1.6 and 6.7 percent for poultry.

How inputs – particularly feed – are used around the world also changes in the study scenarios. More feed is allocated to the pork sector in regions where pork production increases to fill Chinese demand. In China itself, demand for feed crops drops significantly, resulting in price declines for maize, soybean meal, and sweet potatoes around the world.  

Shifting demand and consumer preferences also impact trade.  In China, there is a from prioritization of grain imports to prioritization of meat imports, at least in the short term. Globally, maize exports from North America fall significantly as North American livestock producers increase their domestic demand. At the same time, there is an increase in maize exports to Africa and in sweet potato exports from China.

Higher grain and meat prices have important implications for food security. The study finds that in the ASF outbreak scenarios, most regions of the world see a decline in the availability of calories. Under the worst-case scenario, China sees food expenditures rise by 9 percent, reducing calorie availability by 1.6 percent. Middle-income and low-income countries are impacted most, with India seeing more than 2 million additional people at risk of hunger in the worst-case scenario.

The study also finds that some countries – Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example – appear to see an increase in calorie availability, likely due to lower prices for important staples like maize and sweet potato. However, these benefits are not uniform and may be confined to the short-term; further research is needed regarding the impact of cultural contexts, local dietary preferences, and market integration on food security in the presence of an ASF outbreak.

The authors emphasize that these findings are based on modeled scenarios and that real-life factors could impact the production, demand, and prices of pork, pork alternatives, and feed grains. These factors include the adoption of livestock quarantine measures, the establishment of tariffs or export restrictions to protect local producers and consumers, and longer term reduction of demand for pork in China due to fears over safety and quality.

Looking forward, the authors suggest that the current ASF outbreak could increase investment in research and development into the prevention, mitigation, and cure of diseases like ASF – clearly a positive outcome. However, outbreaks of ASF, particularly if the disease becomes endemic, could also make pork production less attractive and continue to increase prices of not just pork but also pork substitutes and related feed inputs. By using modeling tools like the IMPACT and GLOBE models, researchers and policymakers can better understand the potential impacts of livestock disease outbreaks and better mitigate their negative effects on food security and well-being.

The new FSP policy analysis tool allows users to examine the study findings in more detail. Interactive graphics show pork production, per capita food availability, food and feed demand, and risk of hunger for China and other select regions around the world. Visit the tool at: