The Rare Vietnamese I Pig
Pigs have long been regarded as one of Việt Nam’s most important domesticated animals. Pigs appear in Vietnamese folk art such as poetry, paintings, songs, and stories regularly. In Đông Hồ Paintings, one of the most distinctive Vietnamese folk arts, pigs is always depicted as a symbol of being well-fed, prosperous, and happy with their chubby faces, big ears, and an all-day full belly. The pigs in the paintings are of the “I” breed, which is one of Việt Nam’s indigenous breeds.
I pig (Vietnamese: Lợn Ỉ), also known as the Vietnamese Pot-bellied Pig, is a rare traditional Vietnamese domestic pig breed. The I is uniformly black and has short legs, with an average weight of 50-80 kg, which explains why its body is covered with folds. Although it is slow-growing and its meat is considered to be of high quality.
It is believed to have originated in Việt Nam’s Red River Delta province of Nam Định. It was arguably the most populous pig breed in northern Việt Nam until the 1970s, with millions of individuals. The Móng Cái breed, which is more productive, began to supersede it around that time. The I’s total population was projected to be 675 000 in 1991, and to down to 120 in 2010. Its conservation status was categorized as “critical” in 2003 by the National Institute of Animal Husbandry, and as “endangered” by the FAO in 2007.
Today, the Vietnamese government has finally realized that the only places where the original purebred I pig can be found are in the mountains of North Việt Nam. Because the government recognizes that indigenous I pigs are not as profitable as other species, it has begun to encourage and subsidize local farmers to keep raising them in the hopes of preventing their extinction. This rare breed is now raised for personal consumption by so-called backyard farmers.