CHANGSHA, Nov. 2 (Xinhua) -- Compared with their caged peers, pigs in Huangzhuding lead an idyllic life. Every morning, they take a walk in a nearby pine forest and return to a feast of rose-flavored fodder.
The "rose fragrant pigs" in a village in central China's Hunan Province are known for their rose-filled diet, which is mixed in with their traditional grains of corn, bran, and soybeans. It is now a star product of the village, which has residents eyeing an expanding Chinese market for branded, high-end agricultural products.
The roses they eat come from nearby towns in Hengnan county, which started planting roses in 2013, nurturing a sprawling industry producing a range of byproducts including essential oils, rose cakes, rose tea and rose honey cream.
The unlikely partnership of roses and pigs is a new idea in the local industry.
"The rose petals are mainly used for producing essential oils. After extraction, large amounts of rose residue remain," said Tang Huaying, general manager of Hunan Guanglin Agricultural Technology, a company that manages the local rose plantation and byproduct production.
Under the guidance of agricultural experts, they turned the leftover roses into fodder, Tang said. "Meanwhile, pig manure is converted into organic fertilizers for roses."
The development of both the rose and pig industries has become an innovation in the local poverty reduction campaign, luring back many villagers who sought out better-paying jobs in other cities.
Wang Yisong, from Changping village, used to work in construction before coming home to plant roses in 2014.
"The hilly landscape here is not suitable for growing crops. We only earned 2,000-3,000 yuan (287-431 U.S. dollars) per year from about one mu (0.06 hectare) of land," Wang said. Now he and his wife have a net income of 300,000 yuan a year from their 11 hectares of roses.
Zhong Yanbao, a local pig farmer, said they adopted the rose diet and slow-paced "eco-farming" to improve the quality of pork and to make it "taste like what it used to be."
Whether the pork tastes better is yet to be verified, but the "rose fragrant pigs" have become a popular local brand, sold to the cities of Changsha and Hengyang in Hunan province at double the price of ordinary pork.
China is the biggest pork producer and consumer in the world, with an average pork consumption of over 50 million tonnes per year. In recent years, the market has seen "upgraded consumption" with greater demand for branded and organic pork.
To cater to the booming demands, a new delivery facility has been built near the rose plantation to accommodate as many as 400 sows, as villagers eye a rosy market for their pigs.
Peng Yinglin, a researcher with Hunan Institute of Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Medicine, said the rose fodder serves as a nutritional supplement, though whether the pork tastes differently requires further tests.
"The real significance of the [rose-pig] model is that it connects the animal husbandry and floriculture to raise the 'brand value' of agricultural products and improve the incomes of farmers," said Peng.