Only way out of ASF crisis is vaccines, rehab of small farms, says expert
After the Department of Livestock Development officially put Thailand’s pork shortage and surging prices to an African Swine Fever (ASF) outbreak, the authorities immediately enforced tight controls.
The Commerce Ministry banned the export of live pigs until April 7 and instructed the Department of Internal Trade to track down hoarders.
The Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives (BAAC), meanwhile, has earmarked 30 billion baht to provide loans to pig farmers via three projects in a bid to increase the supply of pork.
Assoc Prof Somporn Isavilanon, a senior academician at the Knowledge Network Institute of Thailand, tells The Nation how this outbreak and subsequent measures will change the country’s pig industry.
There is no vaccine against ASF. So, what will motivate farmers to go back to raising pigs?
It won’t be easy.
First, the epidemic has to be controlled. At this point, it is clear that neither the government nor the Department of Livestock Development has come up with an action plan on controlling or managing the outbreak. Just forcefully keeping the price of pork low or providing compensation to pig farmers is not managing the situation.
For instance, the Department of Livestock Development recently found an ASF outbreak in Ratchaburi. What about other places? There is no data on where the infection was concentrated. This information should be revealed because if some areas are less affected, then the pigs can be taken care of instead of being culled.
This information will also help at-risk farms to close their doors to outsiders, while infected pigs can be culled and farms compensated.
The Department of Livestock Development has pushed for strict control on the movement of pigs to prevent ASF.
This disease has been in existence for two years, and the public does not know what’s going on due to bureaucracy. Therefore, the first step will be to make all information public.
Once this is done, then the authorities should look into farms. Pig farming comes under the Department of Livestock Development and the main priority should be to prevent outbreaks.
My assumption is that small farms have already fallen to ASF, while mid-sized and large farms may have had to cull only 30 per cent of their pigs.
So, now that all smallholders are gone …
Small farms cannot survive. In Nakhon Pathom [which is known for its pig industry] farms, where pigs were being reared in the open space, have been wiped out. Now, the only viable pig farmer is a medium-sized, semi-large or large farm that breeds pigs in a closed system with relatively good biosecurity. Though limited, there is still a supply of pork. These suppliers are probably large farms.
The deputy agriculture minister put the shortage of pork down to hoarding.
I don’t know. The industry used to have some 20 million pigs a year, with 18-19 million being consumed domestically. Now they say about 4 million pigs have succumbed to the virus, so 14-15 million pigs should be available.
The pig farming community says there are just 1,000 pig farms left.
The 1,000 are large farms that cover about 50 per cent of the supply, while there were some 190,000 small farms and about 50 per cent of them have gone. Pig farms in the South are still doing well. The virus has spread in the North and West like in Ratchaburi’s Ban Pong district, but there is no ASF-related information available about the East.
The Department of Livestock Development has been very slow and is not taking steps based on solid academic data.
Has the ASF situation in Thailand passed its peak?
If the disease still exists, then we are still in a crisis.
How can we solve this crisis?
I think big farms can easily survive this because they have closed breeding systems that are shielded by biosafety and biosecurity standards as well as help from academics and modern technology.
The question is, how will the Department of Livestock Development solve the problem for small farms because they have not told me anything. Pigs are bred in a cycle, not based on farming seasons like rice. The pig cycle starts with the mother pig. Some farms have tried to save the mother, but many have failed.
There are three types of entrepreneurs in the pig industry, breeders, those specialising in piglets and those focusing on the fattening of pigs.
Even if all die, they will do their best to preserve the breeder.
Does it take at least a year and a half for a small farm to resurface?
Yes. Some farmers may have a mother pig, who will take about a year to produce a brood. However, if there is an agency that can import pigs and push for local pork prices to remain low, then small farmers won’t survive because animal feed is expensive.
The government has to maintain animal feed prices and help small farmers breed pigs in standardised closed systems to ensure the industry remains stable.
This outbreak will change the structure of Thailand’s pork industry. Nearly half of the smallholders have left the system. They will have to be financed and educated on the new farming system, which will take another year-and-a-half to two years. This will ensure the long-term food security of the country.
If necessary, where will pork be imported from?
Europe. Thailand has standards against red-meat accelerators, which are used in the US, so the private sector cannot import pork from there. If the pork has to be imported, it must come from Europe, which has quotas and clear export protocols. However, this should not affect new pig farmers.
Other countries have not developed ASF vaccines.
There is no vaccine anywhere, including in Thailand. Therefore, the vaccine will be an important variable, like the Covid-19 situation.
How long will pork remain expensive in Thailand?
Based on China and Vietnam’s experience, about one year. Though it depends on how quickly we can recover and how soon the virus can be wiped out globally without a vaccine.