When we count the cost of the Coronavirus pandemic a few years from now, we will certainly remember how the pandemic and attendant lockdown led to a hopeless situation in the face of an outbreak of the African Swine Fever (ASF). The Assam pig farming sector will never be the same again, as it has taken a devastating hit as a result of this outbreak and is now struggling for survival.
The pandemic has prevented these farmers from providing the necessary care and attention needed to curb the spread that has now killed over 18,000 pigs, according to state officials, even though local pig farmers suggest the total deaths are over 100,000. These staggering numbers are as a result of the mortality rate of the ASF, which is between 90 and 100%.
As farmers in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh witnessed the worst of this outbreak, recording deaths in thousands, proactive measures like culling were pertinent to curb the epidemic. However, the state government delayed the culling procedure, and this has led to a further spread of the virus.
According to Diganta Saikia, co-founder of Pithubar farms in Dibrugarh, “Although more than 100,000 pigs have died across Assam within the last six months as a result of the virus, only a few thousands have been officially reported, as 95% of this sector falls under rural-backyard farming therefore most of the deaths have gone unreported. All the infected zones have already been marked by the government. Following the culling procedure, they should have culled the pigs. That should have happened a long time ago, but it got delayed.”
“It is already understood among the pig farmers in Assam that the disease has spread all over Assam. So I was always afraid during the lockdown that my farm might get hit any time. I’m sad that no measures are being taken to help us survive. Our farm got hit by ASF virus and 95% of our stock; that is 280 animals have died in the past month. Since the lockdown it has been very tough running our farm since we couldn’t sell our animals at an initial stage,” he adds.
Saikia is just one of many farmers who have suffered great losses as a result of the ASF outbreak and Government’s inability to kickstart the culling procedure in good time. Many have suffered devastating blows to their farms.
Gohpur-based Rajib Borah, founder of Pothar Agrovet, says rather bitterly, “The government is doing nothing. In my farm, 226 pigs died within a short time. I have only 5 piglets left. Since May, the government has been announcing that the culling process will start. Recently, Chief Minister of Assam finally said culling of 12,000 infected pigs will be done before Durga Puja in October, and they will compensate the farmers. But in the areas the government is targeting, there are not many pigs left. Thousands of pigs died and several farms have been wiped out. Also, the government says they will only compensate those pigs that they cull. Pigs that already died due to the virus won’t count, which means there’s no relief for us. It is not like the government is not aware of it. We have written to the relevant authorities, but there is no compensation.”
Many of these farmers await compensation from the government that although might not be sufficient, would be a welcomed start,” Borah says with regrets.
On his part, founder of Rajkhuwa Pig Breeding, Bidarva Rajkhuwa has a very sad tale to tell. “I started in 2008. My farm herd had grown to 305 pigs before the virus hit my farm on May 13. By June, I had lost it all. I was able to cull 30 pigs and the rest died. I have been writing consistently to government authorities, but there has not been any support. I asked the government a while back to cull the pigs, but they didn’t. Now that our pigs died, we won’t even get any compensation. The farmers are shattered,” he sighs.
“I used to be a successful businessman and would generate good revenue. But now, that is all gone, everything is finished. I’m devastated. There are no policies for us. Everyone is crying for help, but the government is least bothered. The government is advertising to encourage new pig farmers but they are doing nothing to save the existing ones. They’re playing with our emotions,” he adds.
What farmers like Rajkhuwa want is for the government to implement policies favouring these pig farmers to save them in dire situations like these.
According to a top government source, “Although the central government has released 50% funds, the state government is yet to release the remaining 50%. Thus we’re unable to sanction the total amount of Rs 144 crores.”
“Moreover, we don’t even have enough equipment to carry out the culling process. A lot has to be done on ground level. I don’t think the culling process is happening anytime soon,” he said.
Unfortunately, the government hasn’t taken enough steps to implement its largely inadequate plan towards the culling process in order to salvage what it can from the pig farms in Assam. It may take a while longer for anything meaningful to happen. The questions are: Who pays the price? How do these farmers start all over again, with no pigs and a farm infested by a virus?