Chinyere Anyanwu, [email protected]
Lagos State pig farmers have lost a whopping N12.125 billion to African Swine Fever (ASF), a virus that affects pigs, between the first week of March and end of June. This was the submission of the President of Lagos State Pig Farm Estate, Oke Aro, Ifelodun Union, Lagos, Pastor Adewale Oluwalana.
The virus for which no cure has been found began to manifest mildly in the Lagos State Pig Farm Estate, the largest in Africa, last December but took a heavy toll on the pig population from early March.
Daily Sun’s visit revealed that the once bustling pig farm estate boasting about 180,000 and above animals has become a shadow of its old self.
ASF toll on Oke Aro farm
ASF is a major threat to the pig industry in Nigeria and Africa at large because of the heavy losses incurred by pig farmers when it strikes. The virus which originated from China, according to President of the farm estate, was first experienced on the farm in 1998 and killed several animals due to inexperience of the farm managers to handle the virus outbreak.
He said, “but after 1998 we tried to improve our bio-security vis a vis sanitation and every other thing associated with pig farming. In 2015, it reoccurred and we were able to manage it because of our past experience. Though it killed animals, it was not in great magnitude.
“But in 2020, the virus struck again and this one has been very heavy because of the COVID-19 lockdown. The affected animals had their way to the healthy ones and they were infected. The reason was that the buyers were not coming because of the lockdown. We have buyers who buy in huge numbers, especially from the Niger Delta and Republic of Benin, so they were unable to move the healthy ones out and they were infected. That’s why we recorded heavy loss. As at end of June, we’ve lost about 250,000 pigs.”
Financial implication of the losses
The loss of about 250,000 animals in the farm comes with huge financial implications for both the farmers and the state’s economy. Analysing the toll the disease has taken on the farm, its president said, “we normally sell a kilogramme (kg) for N485 and we produce an average of 70kg. We also have some weighing 200kg, 300kg, 180kg, etc., that died so we just use the average size of 70kg and multiply the 250,000 pigs by N485 and that will give you N12.125 billion. That is, each of the animals at an average price of N33,950 multiplied by 250,000. So the Lagos State Pig Farm lost N12.125 billion to this virus outbreak between the first week March and end of June.”
Explaining further, he stated that, “the virus outbreak started in the new farm and spread to the old farm. We were able to control it until the lockdown when buyers were no longer able to evacuate animals and that worsened our situation and accounted for the huge loss.” If there was no lockdown, the buyers would have been coming and we would have been able to evacuate the healthy animals. We isolate the infected ones so that they don’t get the healthy ones infected but if there’s no way to evacuate the healthy ones, it will spread.”
Efforts to curtail disease
Swine fever is not curable as there is no vaccine or treatment for it yet. A pig farmer at the farm estate, Mr. Femi Fashola, speaking on the outbreak of the virus, explained that “it’s just like this COVID-19. There’s nothing you can do about it. Just don’t allow any animal that has the disease come near your animals or else they will have it and when they have it, it will tamper with their organs and when their organs collapse, they die.” The only remedy, in addition to avoiding contact, is maintaining a hygienic environment, according to the president of the farm. He advised: “Make your surroundings clean so that it will not happen. Once it happens, it is not easy to control.
“What we do is that once it happens, we isolate the affected ones and when they die we bury them in the pit provided for that purpose. We don’t allow humans to eat them. We have more than 11 pits we have dug where we dispose of the dead animals to avoid any environmental or health hazard.”
Current situation at the farm
Speaking on the state of things at the farm presently, the estate president said the situation has been largely brought under control. “The virus is not that active on the farm now because of government intervention. We really thank the Lagos State government because immediately the outbreak happened, we informed them and they responded quickly. They sent veterinary doctors from the state and the vet doctors from Lagos informed the ones in Abuja and the Federal Ministry of Agriculture sent their own vet doctors too. “So the two teams were here doing weekly sanitation exercise and fumigating our gutters and the entire environment to help us curtail the spread. We appreciate their efforts and those of the commissioner for agriculture, the permanent secretary, etc, who assisted us. They brought chemicals to assist us to ensure that this virus is curtailed. With these efforts, the disease is drastically reduced but not totally eradicated. Presently, we have 36,250 animals but under normal circumstances we usually have about 180,000 and above. Due to the virus, 80 per cent of our animals have died.
Mechanisms for early detection of virus
Preventing an outbreak of ASF in a pig farm is the best option but when the outbreak is inevitable, detecting it early and nipping it in bud becomes the saving grace. The pig farmer needs to be vigilant to notice the signs early enough and take action to save the entire herd.
Oluwalana said, “there are ways you can detect the disease early in a pig. The moment you see the animal turn reddish and unable to eat, you will know the disease has set in and you will quickly isolate and kill it and dump it in the pit and sanitise the place. When you do that, the other animals will be safe. That’s the way you can curtail it.
“And it does not normally occur except you buy an animal from where it occurs and bring it to breed your animal. That is why one of our laws is that we don’t want people to bring animals from outside into the farm to avoid an outbreak.”
He stated that the swine disease occurred in other states across the country including Benue and Kaduna, among others, but said he could not estimate the level of loss suffered by those states.
With the magnitude of loss recorded at the Lagos State Pig Farm Estate, stakeholders at the farm have made heartfelt appeals to both the state and federal governments to come to their rescue. Through their spokesman, the president of the estate, they are calling for financial assistance in the forms of grants and loans to enable them return to business and continue in their support to the economy through job creation and contribution to the nation’s GDP. The president explained that owing to the importance of pig to both the economy and human nutrition, the need for government and private sector intervention cannot be overemphasised.
He stated: “We have an average of 3000 farmers on this farm including men, women and young people as well as graduates who are working here. We have about 10,000 workforce in the entire value chain and because of this huge number of people working here, government needs to come and assist us. Before, this place was bubbling but because of this virus it is now like a ghost town because we have very few animals now. So we want government to intervene in many areas like giving us financial grants to assist us; this one is not a loan.
“I remember when cows were killed by heavy rainfall in the North, they gave them grants, so government should assist us to give our farmers grants. We’ve lost some farmers due to this challenge and we have those who are hospitalised because of this incident. Some of them borrowed N10 million, N8 million, N5 million to invest in this business but now the business has crumbled so where will they get money to pay back these loans? Owing to this, a lot of them had heart attack and are still hospitalised while some have died. So government needs to help us to sustain the lives of those who are still alive by giving us grants.”
Oluwalana noted that soft loans will also be appreciated because the grants may not be sufficient for all the farmers, adding that the soft loans should not attract more than 5 per cent interest rate.
“The government can also help us to convert our waste to wealth because one of the major challenges we have is to convert this waste to organic fertiliser. We need machines that can dry the animals’ faeces and package it for crop farmers to use as organic fertiliser. If this happens, the environment of the farm will be very clean.
“Also, we need a big cold room on this farm. If we have such here, it will help us a lot so that when we kill our animals we will be able to preserve them until our customers come to buy them. NGOs and the private sector can also come and assist us revive the spirit of the farmers because these people are contributing to the GDP of the country and to healthy nutrition of the citizens,” he said.
According to him, “pig is the only animal that builds human immunity and it’s rich in protein. Its protein is higher than that of chicken because it is also white meat. The importance of pig is the reason government should come to the aid of these pig farmers, especially in the area of restocking our animals so that the people that are employed here won’t lose their jobs and if they lose jobs, they will constitute nuisance to the community and the community will not be at rest any longer.”
He explained that the farm estate’s executive has written and delivered letters to the Lagos State government and the commissioner of agriculture to inform them officially concerning the issue though they are aware of the situation, adding, “as we want the Lagos State government to assist us, we also want the Federal Ministry of Agriculture to assist us.”
Recognition for pig farmers
Despite the level of relevance pig farming holds to the individual, state and national economy, stakeholders in the sector lament inadequate attention from government, urging government to accord the sector the recognition it deserves.
Speaking on the issue of recognition for the sector, the Secretary of Lagos State Pig Farm Estate, Mrs. Omotayo Adekoya, called on the Federal Government to, “recognise pig farmers as they recognise fish farmers, rice farmers, cassava farmers, etc., because when they bring out most of their programmes they neglect the pig farmers. This situation is not allowing us to be competitive in the market. We want to see pork (pig meat) on tables in the market just like you see beef, chicken, fish, etc. So they should give us more recognition as they are giving to all other sectors in agriculture.”
The ASF, till date, is still a challenge with huge repercussion in the pig value chain, which requires all hands to be on deck to check its recurrence in the country while the the world works to get a cure or vaccine.