Agri Business

Covid, African swine fever ‘infect’ pork industry in Assam

Abhishek Law Kolkata | Updated on August 30, 2021

FILE PHOTO: A pig farmer takes out his pigs for grassing in the out skirts of Guwahati, Assam   -  The Hindu

Small breeders, who account for over 80% of the meat supplies, are amongst the worst hit of the $2 billion sector

A double whammy of Covid and African Swine Fever (ASF) has taken a toll on the ₹11,000 crore ($2 billion) pork and pig-rearing industry in Assam.

Small breeders, particularly of matrilineal societies of Assam, have been amongst the worst hit. They account for over 80 per cent of the meat supplies in the local markets of the region. A 40 per cent price rise has taken place at the retail-end in Assam (prices being up from ₹280/kg to ₹400/kg), primarily on account of shortages due to instances of rising African swine fever cases.

Pork is a staple delicacy of the region. While supplies are managed through rule-bound movement of pork from Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, stocks in local markets of Assam are hit with the “lactating and pregnant females” being the worst hit. Distress sell of livestock and rising price of piglets – which have almost doubled over the last few months – have severely impacted the rearing segment as infections continue to swell over the last one year.

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Officially, 39,000 pigs have succumbed to the ASF in the last 18 months while 13,200 families are economically affected. Industry sources, however say, the numbers are higher. Assam’s livestock is around 21 lakh, while some peg it at 30 lakh. Annual pork consumption in the State is around 11 crore kilogram and approximately 2 crore of it is produced within the State.

“Give it another six months and you will see the effects on the local economy. Small rearers, primarily women who rear at home are the worst hit. The rearing industry is in doldrums now with ASF and Covid both affecting sentiments,” Arindom Hazarika, Co-founder, Arohan Foods – which works on the value chain, capacity-building and processing segment – told BusinessLine.

Hazarika has also detailed out issues in a two-part post for Iravati Research & Communication Centre, a Kolkata based think-centre engaged in research and policy advocacy.

Distress sales, price rise

“Impact wise it will seem small to a casual observer due to the large number of unorganised players, mostly women with stocks of 3-4 animals. Individual household losses may be limited to ₹30,000 versus a large organised farmer where it runs into lakhs,” he said, adding, “With 5-7 lakh unorganised players, the collective losses will be huge for them”.

Typically, small breeders rear 3-4 animals with one or two of these being females which give birth to around 15-16 young animals. With pregnant females being susceptible, pig-breeders now need to buy the cub. Price of piglets are moving northwards. Against two being available at ₹5,000-6,000, one cub is priced at ₹5,000-odd. Moreover, cost economics are not in favour of breeders. Pig feed has to be brought in from South or North Indian States, as local production continues to be low.

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“If price of livestock doubles, it becomes unsustainable for unorganised breeders. There is no surety that high pork prices will remain a long-term trend,” said a local rearer.

Distress sale too isn’t uncommon. While there isn’t any evidence to suggest that ASF passes from animals to human, the international operating procedures mandate culling of animals over a 1 km radius in the area where ASF is detected.

For small farmers, testing stock, awaiting reports and then culling is a long drawn and cumbersome process. Most prefer distress sale of animals at 50-60 per cent lower cost in wet markets. In some cases, distress sale price is higher than government compensation rate.

Other North Eastern States

States like Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Manipur have reported ASF last year. Mizoram, which remained safe thanks to the ban on import of pigs and pork including from neighbouring countries and stringent entry rules due to Covid, is also hit.

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Atul Bora, Assam’s Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Minister, had previously blamed China for the disease. Industry sources add, around 2020 pig carcasses were observed in the Brahmaputra river. By July 2020, the first cases were detected in India in areas along the banks of this river in Arunachal Pradesh and Assam.

Published on August 29, 2021

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