African swine fever rages on in Assam

Since its outbreak in 2020, the African Swine fever has wiped out hundreds of small pig farms in Assam, leaving their owners without a means of livelihood. Compensation only for culled pigs and not those that died of the disease.

Divendra Singh
| Updated: February 23rd, 2021

Photo: ILRI/Stevie Mann, Flickr

Rajib Bora’s Pothar Agrovet Pig Farm at Ghagora in Gohpur district of Assam had 300 pigs in it. But today, the 40-year-old pig farmer has not even one pig left, having lost all of them to African Swine Fever. Bora is reeling under the loss.  

“Pig farming is our sole means of livelihood. With the death of my 300 pigs, I have suffered a loss of at least Rs 30 lakhs. I cannot even think of restarting as I am left with no money,” Rajib Bora lamented to Gaon Connection

It was in January 2020, that the African swine fever broke out in Assam. By April, it had spread rapidly across Sivasagar, Dhemaji, Lakhimpur, Biswanath Charli, Dibrugarh and Jorhat districts. African swine fever is a highly contagious and deadly viral disease affecting both domestic and wild pigs of all ages that causes hemorrhagic fever in the pigs leading to their death. 

Rajib Bora’s pig farm had 300 pigs in it. But today, the farmer has not even one pig left. Photo: Rajib Bora

According to the animal husbandry department, 18,200 pigs perished due to the virus, but members of the Northeast Progressive Pig Farmers Association claim the number to be much higher. 

“Despite the claims of the animal husbandry department, nearly one million pigs may have perished in Assam, entirely wiping out many pig farms,” Timir Bijoy Srikumar, the association’s secretary told Gaon Connection

“The government had promised compensation for only those farms where the pigs had been culled but no provisions were made for compensating for the pigs dying from the disease,” he added. In October, 2020, the animal husbandry department had talked about culling 12,000 pigs to prevent infection but by November-December, only about 800 pigs were culled.  “The number of pigs to be culled by Durga puja was set at 12,000,  but only about 800 pigs were culled. Private farms were compensated. Fifty per cent of the compensation came from the Centre while the other half was paid by the state government,” Ashok Kumar Burman, director of the animal husbandry department, Assam, told Gaon Connection. The compensation varies according to the weight of the culled pig. It ranges between Rs 2,200 for a pig weighing up to 15 kgs to Rs 15,000 to one weighing over 100 kgs. Compensation for destroyed feed is Rs 22 a kg. 

Also Read: Ruffled Feathers: Government compensation of Rs 90 per bird is chicken feed, say distressed poultry farmers who have lost thousands of birds to bird flu

“Our effort is to help all those who have suffered,” assured Burman who also said there was a move to recommence the local pig farms. 

According to the animal husbandry department, 18,200 pigs perished due to the virus. Photo: NEPPFA

The 20th animal census conducted in 2019 shows that while the population of pigs came down across the country, in Assam the numbers had actually risen. Between the 19th animal census in 2012, and the 20th census, the country’s pig population had reduced from 10.3 million, 9.1 million. But in Assam the pig population went up from 1.64 million in 2012 to 2.1 million in 2019. However, the African swine fever, it is feared has led to a drastic decline in that number.

“First the markets shut due to COVID-19 and then came the African swine fever. I am left with only a few pigs,” 31-year-old Digant Saikia running the Pithubar farm at Khowangghat in Dibrugarh district told Gaon Connection.

Before and after images of Digant Saikia’s farm who lost pigs to swine fever. Photo: Digant Saikia

According to the World Organization for Animal Health, many other countries in Europe, Africa and Asia—Bulgaria, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Ukraine, Korea, Laos, Myanmar, South Africa and Namibia, are reeling under African swine fever.

North East Progressive Pig Farmers Association also filed a petition under the Animal Disease Control and Prevention Act 2009 on July 28, 2020 with the Guwahati High Court, following which the transportation of pigs from Assam was banned in order to prevent the spread of African swine fever from Assam to other states.

“The government plans resumption of transportation to bring pigs from other states instead of recommencing the local pig farms,” complained a pig farmer, saying the administration said it would vaccinate the transported animals, while there is no vaccine for the disease.

“The transportation has not happened since the court order in July 2020; however, the department has appealed to the court,” Burman, commented. He said that when the transportation would recommence, pigs from Punjab and Haryana would be brought to Assam. 

The African swine fever virus does not spread to humans from animals. But it does spread amongst the animals rapidly. There is no medicine or vaccine for its prevention and the death of the infected animal is certain. According to the pig farmers, the swine flu is still raging. 

They accused the government of not acting quickly enough to cull the infected pigs. Had they done that the infection could have been contained, they said. They also fear that if the government doesn’t help them out in the coming days, the business of pig farming in Assam will come to an end.

Read the story in Hindi.