Hunan province in southern China has announced a scheme to buy wild animals from farmers as the country cracks down on the trade of wildlife for consumption.
The initial outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic has been linked to a wet market in Wuhan, capital of China's central Hubei province, where a wide variety of wild animals were being sold as meat, including snakes, porcupines and raccoon dogs.
Since then, China has been working to clamp down on the wild animal trade.
In January, Chinese officials announced that the trading of wild animals would be temporarily suspended in hopes that would help contain the virus. The next month, China slapped a temporary ban on all farming and consumption of "terrestrial wildlife of important ecological, scientific and social value."
On Friday, the Hunan provincial government said it will offer compensation to wildlife farmers so they can switch to alternative forms of farming. Only farmers who obtained a license for the artificial breeding of wildlife are eligible, it said.
The compensation varies depending on the species. Officials will pay 120 yuan ($17) per kilogram of king rat snake, while a guinea pig is worth 24 yuan ($3.40).
Jiangxi province in southeastern China announced a similar scheme last Saturday, but did not specify the compensation offered to its farmers.
In a statement, animal protection group Humane Society International praised Hunan and Jiangxi for "demonstrating global leadership" on the issue, and urged other provinces and countries to follow suit.
"Chinese farmers not only have an opportunity to leave a trade that poses a direct threat to human health -- something that can no longer be tolerated in light of Covid -- but also to transition to more humane and sustainable livelihoods such as growing plant foods," said Peter Li, the NGO's China's policy specialist.