Symbiotic Foods: ‘Sow’ing the idea of commercial pig farming in Assam

Pratim Ranjan Bose Guwahati. March 10 | Updated on March 11, 2019

Khanindra Kalita (left) and Manoj Kumar Basumatary, Co-founders, Symbiotic Foods

Manoj Kumar Basumatary quit as chief manager of State Bank of India in 2013. Over the next one year, he and Khanindra Kalita set up Symbiotic Foods to breed pigs in Assam.

The beginning was made with 25 sows and two boars at a farm in Sonitpur district. As processes stabilised, Symbiotic planned to scale up to 150 sows, to produce 3,000 quality piglets every year.

Though sustenance-level pig farming is common in Assam and the North-East, which consumes 75 per cent of the four lakh tonnes of pork produced in India, availability of quality piglets — vaccinated, secure from in-breeding and having due genetic potential — for commercial farming is still wanting. At least 60 per cent of the ₹8,400-crore annual pork demand of this region is met by imports from other States, chiefly Bihar, UP, Rajasthan, and Punjab

Loan denied

But the expansion had to wait nearly two years. First SBI and then North Eastern Development Finance Corporation (NEDFi) turned down a ₹10-lakh loan proposal.

The finance came in November 2016, when the Truvalu enterprise of the Netherlands-based ICCO Cooperation offered ₹60 lakh (€80,000) in FDI for scaling up capacity.

In 2017-18, Symbiotic made a slender profit on a ₹67-lakh turnover, which is likely to double in FY19. Importantly, the profits came without any tax exemptions, as the company’s application for benefits under the ‘Startup India’ programme got rejected too.

Symbiotic is expecting ₹1 crore finance from North East Venture Fund of NEDFi to double piglet production to 6,000.

Breaking boundaries

Basumatary doesn’t want to stop with breeding. He wants to make Symbiotic a farm-to-fork company. But till that happens, he is working on standardising the neglected science of commercial pig farming in India.

Commercial production of pork, he says, starts from picking the right breed, followed by ensuring vaccination, good feed, etc.

In Europe, farmers report 2.4 farrowing a year from each sow. Regulating quantity and quality of feed for sows is the key to ensure maximum litter size. Pigs are fed seven types of feed and mineral mixtures to ensure 100 kg weight in six months.

India is weak in these areas. Feed varieties are not available. Farmers struggle to get two farrowing a year. Litter size is not standardised. And, the last time India saw import of any new breed was nearly 20 years ago, in Kerala.

Govt attention needed

In the North-East, getting swine flu vaccine is a challenge, and artificial insemination — a standard practice to reduce cost and restrict spread of diseases — facilities are few.

According to Basumatary, the Guwahati-based National Research Centre on Pig (NRCP) barely contributes to the cause of modern farming. “Pig farming can flourish if supply of good breed, feed and vaccines are ensured,” he says.

But till that happens, Symbiotic is doing its bit in sensitising Assamese youth in taking up commercial pig farming. The company conducts fee-based orientation courses for prospective entrepreneurs and handholds them into business.

Apart from opening a new source of income for Symbiotic, the initiative has led to the formation of North-East Progressive Pig Farmers’ Association.

Published on March 10, 2019

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