African swine fever hits Assam’s piggery sector; government orders culling of pigs
Assam’s piggery sector, hit due to Covid-19 lockdown, is now battling for survival with the spread of incurable African swine fever (ASF) that has killed around 18,000 pigs in the state, officials said. An ASF case was first reported in May and this week chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal ordered the culling of around 12,000 pigs by October end.
Pig farm owners insist the government’s figure is conservative and insist over 100,000 pigs have died of the disease. There is no vaccine for the disease and it has a mortality rate of 90% to 100%.
The farm owners have complained there has not been much help from the government in culling nor have they been compensated for the losses.
“Our farm got hit by ASF virus and 95% of our stock i.e. 280 animals have died in the past month. Since the lockdown it had been very tough running our farm since we couldn’t sell our animals at an initial stage,” tweeted Diganta Saikia of Dibrugarh’s Pithubar Farms.
“The government then banned the sale of pork and transport of animals due to the ASF epidemic that had killed lakhs of pigs across Assam during the lockdown. We had a huge fund crunch and ended up taking more loans from banks on top of our previous loans for operational purpose,”
Like Saikia, many in districts like Tinsukia, Lakhimpur and Gohpur have suffered similar losses.
According to the World Organisation for Animal Health, ASF is a severe viral disease that affects both domestic and wild pigs. The disease does not transmit from animals to humans. Its transmission can also occur via contaminated feed and objects such as shoes, clothes, vehicles, knives. Unlike Classical Swine Fever), there is no vaccine for ASF.
Animal husbandry and veterinary department commissioner and secretary Shyam Jagannathan cited their estimates since May and said nearly 18,000 pigs have died. He added Sonowal on Wednesday ordered the culling of 12,000 affected pigs before the Durga Puja festival.
As per protocol, once samples of dead pigs are tested positive for ASF in an area, the one km radius around it is declared as disease epicenter. All pigs in that area are stamped and culled.
An area of one km radius outside the epicentre is called surveillance zone and a radius of 9 km outside the buffer zone. There are 33 epicentres in 13 districts of the state.
Jagannathan said the Centre and state government pay 50% of compensation each as per rules. “Compensation amount is based on the weight of the animal to be culled. We are planning to launch a portal where farmers can list details of affected pigs.”
He said the compensation is transferred directly into bank accounts of farmers prior to culling. “Our requirement for culling 12,000 pigs is ₹13.63 crores. No compensation has been given to farmers yet as the culling process is yet to begin.”
Farm owners are unhappy saying the government’s plans are too little too late as there is none to compensate those who have lost their animals before the culling.
“As per our estimates over 1 lakh [100,000] pigs have died due to ASF, which is way higher than the government estimate of 18,000 deaths. We also do not know how they came up with the figure of 12,000 pigs to be culled,” said North East Progressive Pig Farmers Association president Manoj Basumatary.
He said commercial pig farmers are keeping records of deaths and have kept the government in the loop. “The disease reached our state 4-5 months ago, but till date, not a single culling has been done and not a single rupee given as compensation.”
Neighbouring states have also banned the import of pigs from the state and added to the woes of the industry.
Assam had the highest pig population--2.1 million--in the country, according to the 2019 livestock census.
Assam Livestock Development Agency sectoral officer Jagannath Kalita said nearly one million people are directly or indirectly involved in pig farming in Assam. “On an average, piglets and pork valued at over ₹500 crore are bought and sold in Assam every year.”
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