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How to fight African Swine Fever

by Harvest Money Editor
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There is, painfully and once again, a reported fresh outbreak of African swine fever. Apparently, the most affected areas are in central Uganda.

Wakiso and Masaka districts are one of the largest pig producing districts in Uganda with at least 1 million pigs on medium and large-scale pig farms, according to the district production office.

Therefore, an outbreak of African swine fever, (a disease that neither has a vaccine nor treatment) in Wakiso and Masaka districts, poses a huge risk to the pig sector in Uganda.  The country has about 5 million pigs.

As of June 10, over 100 pigs had been lost in Masaka! “Yes, we confirm an outbreak in Masaka, but I want to assure farmers that we are doing everything possible to handle the situation,” Dr Vincent Mayega, district production officer, said.

African swine fever (ASF) is a highly contagious and fatal viral disease of domestic pigs. It was first described in Kenya, East Africa, in 1921 by foreign researchers though the disease was of economic importance before 1910.

The disease was soon afterwards described in South Africa and Angola as a disease that killed settler’s pigs. The first outbreak of African swine fever in Europe happened in 1957 and again 1959.

The serious effect of the disease was fully appreciated and immediate actions were taken. Currently, the disease has been completely eradicated in some European countries and others have never experienced outbreaks in domestic pigs since 1959.

In August 2018, the world’s largest pig producer China reported the first African swine fever outbreak in Liaoning province, which was also the first reported case in Eastern Asia.

The disease has now spread to every province in China and it is reported China has culled 26% of its total pig population as a result of the attack.

In Uganda, African swine fever is endemic and outbreaks are cyclical. This is largely due to a poor disease reporting system, slow issuing of quarantines, lack of quarantine implementation and absence of incentives to enable culling of infected pigs without their meat going to the market.

At the moment, there are no measures to compensate farmers with sick animals. There are a number of undocumented outbreaks of African swine fever in Uganda and the current one being in Wakiso and Masaka districts.

The first appearance of African swine fever in an area or farm is usually characterized by death of a large number of pigs after a short illness. Pigs become depressed and suddenly stop eating, huddle together and sometimes may die before other clinical signs develop.

The pig spends most of its time lying down, difficult breathing and flushing of the skin, particularly on the abdomen and extremities in white-skinned pigs, commonly develop in pigs that survive for more than a day. Pigs of all ages are affected.

Outbreak of African Swine Fever in a farm is usually associated with one or all of the following events:

– Close contact between domestic and infected wild pigs

– Introduction of infected pigs into a farm, for example through purchase. Solution is not to buy pigs at the moment.

– Introduction of infected pig meat into the farm. Stop any of your workers from eating pork on or off the farm.

– Feeding of swill that contains raw or insufficiently cooked infected pork and pig remains or access to such remains through scavenging. At the moment, farmers should not get any leftover foods from food eateries.

– Movement of vehicles and people between farms during an outbreak.

– Movement of stray dogs, scavengers and other animals between farms during an outbreak

-Using equipment from infected farms African swine fever has the ability to exist on surfaces for several years.

How can we reduce the impact or even eradicate ASF from Uganda?

Nobody knows when the vaccine or treatment for African Swine Fever will be discovered and if discovered, whether we will be able to access it easily and on time. You know how long it took us to access even the simplest vaccines in the country.

Therefore, for the pig and pork businesses to survive in this difficult environment of repeated African Swine Fever outbreaks there is need for taking actions that can be driven by farmers with less or no government assistance.

There are about four strategies that stake holders need to think about and act as soon as possible as individuals or group of farmers. 

Biosecurity – a priority not an option 

Bio-security of pigs at farm level is the set of practical measures taken to prevent entrance of infection into a pig farm and control the spread of infection within that farm. This requires individual effort and commitment.

Bio-security can be looked at in two ways; Guarding the farm from entry of disease-causing organisms and managing infection on farm to prevent transmission to other pigs in the farm.

Effective bio-security may not come for free; you will spend some money. For example, you need a perimeter fence around the farm to prevent entry of unauthorized personnel, animals, birds etc.

You need to buy disinfectants, construct bathrooms for visitors to take a shower before accessing the pigs, buying farm attire, for both workers and authorised visitors.

On the farm, especially for large farmers; you will need to provide different houses for different categories of pigs e.g. pregnant sows, farrowing sows and growers. All these will cost you some money.

Therefore, a written bio-security plan is important and with it farm workers can easily implement bio-security measures with support of suggested structures. The size of the farm doesn’t matter most especially if it is not the owner managing the pigs on daily basis.

What to think about when drafting your biosecurity plan

Land area used for pig production: Bio-security starts from selecting the site for construction of your pig farm. Who is your neighbour? Are you near a forest harbouring wild pigs? Are you near an abattoir, a pork joint or pork selling restaurant? A pig farm must be isolated from people and possibly set in a location free from other pig producers. If your neighbourhood is very risky, your biosecurity programme will be expensive.

Management Procedures: This is more about your strategies to avoid infections from crossing from one pig unit to another, most especially in large farms. In such farms, it is necessary to provide a particular manager for particular pig categories because this helps ease control of movements from one house to the other.

For example, the farrowing unit manager, grower unit manager, dry sow unit manager, must go through a routine biosecurity check before crossing to other units. This means, also equipment etc. for a particular unit doesn’t cross to others. In small and medium productions, we must refrain from borrowing farm equipment, drugs, syringe and needles etc. Sick pigs must be isolated and newly introduced pigs quarantined for at-least two weeks before mixing with others.

Transportation of pigs: Due to the absence of professional pig transporters in the country, trucks used for transporting breeding pigs are the same used for transporting slaughter pigs. Even during an outbreak, this does not change.

Also, if unsupervised, transporters park near high-risk places for example pork joints to have meals. It is your responsibility as a farmer to source and interview the transporter of your breeding pigs, make sure the truck is disinfected and the route of movement is followed with no unnecessary stopovers until final destination. When stopped at any police check point, please request the officers not to get in contact with pigs. Also try every effort possible to move pigs together with necessary documents to avoid delaying at check points.

Buildings and structures: Every pig unit must have its own set procedures before access is allowed. Do not leave open walls, cover with a net to prevent entry of birds and other small animals. When visitors access the farm, do not allow them touch pig house walls or pigs. The farm must be enclosed into a fence with one or more managed entrances.

Consumable supplies and equipment: It is your responsibility to ensure feeds are sourced from a supplier mindful of your farm health. The supplier must explain to you what they are doing to ensure selling uncontaminated feeds to pig producers. Feeding restaurant remains may save you money today but cost you your whole investment later. Pork from outside sources should not enter the farm. People attending to pigs should avoid visiting abattoirs and pork joints.

– Owners, workers, veterinarians, consultants & visitors: The effectiveness of every bio-security plan depends on the commitment of the owner. Owners must not dodge bio-security procedures; they must obey every detail to prove importance to farm workers. You should also talk about the importance of bio-security with your workers always. In large productions, it is important that workers are well trained farm residents. It is risky to have a farm worker who is also working at another farm. It is also risky to have a worker whose movements are unsupervised.

You must be careful about veterinarians and consultants: They must go through a similar biosecurity process before accessing the pigs. Buy your own farm drugs and equipment, do not allow veterinarians to enter farm with their drugs and equipment. These must advise you on what drugs to avail before their next visit. Where possible, avoid visitors.  Make every effort possible to prevent people from accessing your pig farm and if allowed, strict bio-security procedures must be followed.

Uniting for action 

The second strategy requires different value chain actors to understand the importance of African swine fever to their businesses and come together for action. When organized into relevant groups, farmer groups, pig traders’ and input dealers’ groups, among others.

It is easy to initiate and contribute to a fund to be used during an outbreak to compensate affected members. This limit infected meat from reaching the market and therefore controlling transmission of the virus to new locations/farms.

Through the same groups, animal health trainings can be routinely carried out to prevent outbreaks. Also, it enables effective control of trade of infected pigs as well as fighting other risks faced by different value chain actors.

Insurance 

In 2016, the Government introduced the Uganda Insurance Agriculture Scheme (UAIS) as an insurance subsidy programme for both small and large scale farmers and farmers in high risk areas to ensure every farmer in Uganda can be protected from the effects of losses of their crops/livestock on their overall income that season.

The UAIS is managed by the Agriculture Insurance Consortium (AIC) which is housed under the Uganda Insurers Association (UIA).

The scheme covers; 

-Accidents (lightning/internal and external injuries, windstorms, snake bites and flooding)

-Illness and diseases of terminal nature

-Epidemics except those arising from Rift Valley fever or foot-and-mouth, after declaration by the Government

-Emergency slaughter on advice of a qualified veterinary surgeon.

The cover can be extended to theft, transit risks and farrowing risks. 

Community slaughter and feasts 

In Uganda, mostly in rural areas, burying carcasses of pigs to prevent continued spread of disease may be a waste of time. Many Ugandans can hardly afford enough meat so will unbury this free meat and feast on it. Sometimes, even animals whose death is caused by dangerous zoonotic diseases are not spared if not burnt to ashes!

Therefore, where there is willingness by a farmer to prevent infected meat from reaching the market, what they do is to invite the community, slaughter, cook and eat all the meat. It is important that it is not good for a pig farmer to get involved in such feasts because they only increase the stay and spread of the disease.

It is important to note that selling a single infected pig can lead to African Swine Fever outbreaks in the whole country and thereafter death of a huge number of pigs. Therefore, for those concerned about fellow farmers please avoid selling infected pigs. Traders must stop buying and selling infected pig meat.

Also, African Swine Fever virus only affect pigs, therefore infected meat has no harmful effects on human beings or other animal species. The control of consumption of infected meat is aimed at preventing disease outbreaks in new locations.

Witten by Christopher Mulindwa, an investor and consultant in piggery

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