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Tanzania: Farmers improve pigs’ health and hygiene to manage African swine fever

Cuthbert Swai built a house and small enclosures for pigs and chickens on his three-and-a-half acres in Boma Ng’ombe district, about 130 kilometres from the tourist town of Arusha in northern Tanzania. Mr. Swai can now make a living and support his family because he has learned how to manage African swine fever, a highly contagious pig disease that is common in Tanzania. He says, “Since I moved my pigs to a new house and vaccinated them, they are growing very fast and look healthy … their skin looks shiny now and they have gained weight.”

Mr. Swai used to simply rear pigs behind his house. The 35-year-old pig farmer says many households in his area have up to 10 domestic animals in their compounds. But veterinary officers rarely visited the farmers and many of the pigs lived in unhygienic conditions, with inadequate food and no access to vaccines. As a result, diseases such as African swine fever were a big challenge. The disease produces a range of symptoms, and some cases are very serious. Symptoms include high fever, lack of appetite, lethargy, and weakness.

There is no cure for African swine fever, and no vaccine. But improving farm hygiene and reducing contact with potentially contaminated objects—including tools, clothes, and tainted pig feed—can reduce the spread of disease. In addition, vaccinating and deworming pigs can keep them in general good health, which makes them less likely to become sick.

Mr. Swai says that, in previous years, it took about a year for his pigs to reach a weight of about 28 kilograms, which was barely big enough to sell. He often had difficulty selling them because they were small and had worms. He says, “Most pigs were affected by worms and they could die young, resulting in a loss of income.”

He adds that one reason the disease is difficult to manage is that infected pigs roam around searching for food, which results in infection of other pigs, and thus poor health and poor market prices.

Steven Vincent Njau is an agricultural field officer in Tanzania. He says that in 2012, African swine fever caused some parts of the country—including Mbeya, Rukwa, Dodoma, Dar es Salaam, and Coastal regions—to ban the export and sale of live pigs and pork from one Tanzanian region to another without a permit. Those restrictions are still in place in 2018.

Mr. Njau adds: “After the outbreak [of African swine fever], we have become more cautious. Every week, we announce in churches and mosques that we are going to visit farmers to vaccinate the pigs and to inspect slaughtered pigs.”

Rosemary Sandamu is a veterinary officer in Boma Ng’ombe district. She says the government is encouraging veterinary officers to visit households to help farmers improve their pigs’ health and hygiene, which can reduce the spread of African swine fever. She explains: “I like to spend my time with farmers to advise them how to keep their pigs healthier by containing them in the house, feeding them good food, and building the pig house far from the human [house] to prevent … contamination.” For example, pigs roaming near latrines can be unsanitary. People who have touched infected animals can pass the virus to healthy animals.

Mrs. Sandamu says that the outbreak of African swine fever in the area encouraged many farmers to improve their pigs’ housing and diet, and to vaccinate their animals. She says that there is now a high demand for healthier pigs and farmers have learned to keep their pigs healthy. She adds that many farmers have now rebuilt pig houses far from human houses to avoid contact with human waste and from potentially infected items such as clothes, tools, and vehicles, as well as from other animals.

For the pig farmers of Boma Ng’ombe, things have changed for the better. Mrs. Sandamu says that, over a period of two years, vaccinators have successfully visited most pig farmers in the region. She says, “They [farmers] are now producing very healthy pigs. I see a lot of buyers from neighbouring regions coming to Boma Ng’ombe to buy pigs.” Samson Molle is a pig farmer in Meru, in Tanzania’s Arusha Region. He has 30 mature pigs and 15 piglets on his farm. He says vaccination has helped increase his earnings from selling pigs for years now.

He adds: “Unlike other farmers around, I keep my pigs very healthy. Every two months, I deworm them, and they are all vaccinated. I have dug my own well to get clean water for my pigs.”

After participating in a training on how to keep pigs healthier, Mr. Swai says he is now happy because it takes only seven or eight months for his pigs to reach a weight of 50 to 55 kilograms. He says: “Buyers now come from neighbouring regions … to buy pigs from us. Some of the buyers even book in advance for a price of about 4,500 Tanzanian shillings [US$2] per kilogram and we sell one kilogram of meat at Boma Butchery for 3,800 Tanzanian shillings [US$1.66] per kilogram.”