- Published on Friday, 30 March 2012 10:55
Many East African small businesses and smallholders are losing income by selling their output based on estimates of the weight, but a new measuring system in western Kenya has found farmers losing as much as one-third of the legitimate sales price for pigs being valued by eye, a sorry state of affairs shared across the over 5 million pig farmers in East Africa.
The new measuring system, introduced to 288 farms in a study by the International Livestock Research, has uncovered such a wide discrepancy between the true weights and sales prices that the system is now being replicated countrywide in an effort to span an industry that amounted to 335,000 pigs, according to 2009 Census figures.
Pig rearing is popular with farmers in western Kenya, as a low-risk venture that needs minimal inputs in space and feed. Many smallholders keep one or two pigs tethered or left free to scavenge. But no formal market structure exists for selling the mature pigs.
Instead, local traders and pork butchers travel between farms on bicycles looking for pigs to buy. The selling price is then based on the weight of the pig, but few farmers can afford weighing scales, so they rely on the weight based on a visual assessment.
The new ILRI weighing model is instead based on the pig’s measurements. A uniquely numbered ear tag is inserted in each pig’s ear, and the pig is measured with a tape from the midpoint between the ears to the point where the tail joins the body, to determine the body length. The girth is measured around the pig’s body, just behind the forelegs. Farmers then calculate average weight values for the length and girth of every animal. ILRI has also supplied them with monthly cards and charts to record the weights.
The measurements revealed farmers were losing as much as 15kgs to 20kgs of sales price in the visual estimates to butchers and pig dealers, with farmers visually calculating a pig as 40kgs, which would after measuring weigh 60 kgs. A kilo of pork at urban butcheries retails at Sh280, meaning farmers were losing as much as Sh5600 on each pig to the visual estimates.
“The weight-prediction tool will offer smallholder farmers in western Kenya the opportunity to get better market value for their local pigs and will act as an incentive to better manage their pigs through improved feeding and husbandry,” said Dr. Florence Mutua a researcher from ILRI, who was also a lead researcher in the Western Kenya pig project.
Weight predictions using body measurements have been studied in other countries across different animals. However, this is the first time weight prediction using girth and length measurements for pigs had been studied in East Africa. This simple and easy to use method has therefore opened opportunities for the over 5 million smallholder pig farmers across East Africa to to salvage what they have been losing to unscrupulous traders.
Backyard farmers in the Philippines already use length and girth measurements to estimate the weights of pigs and have since moved on to use the same model to measure calves. A report by the Ministry of Agriculture in the Philippines showed that one year after the new weighing system was introduced, pig farmers recorded a 70 per cent increase in income, which attracted 20 per cent of farmers who were not initially in pig farming to embrace the new, more lucrative industry.
The pig industry in the Philippines now has over 5 millions pigs according to Philippines livestock research in 2010.
In Kenya, “the fear that the pig dealers and butchers will not co-operate with farmers is unfounded. Truth be told, they would not have wanted the farmers to be equipped with this kind of measurement information, but they also appreciate that we are all in the business of empowering each other.
If pig farmers continue selling off their pigs at dismal prices and not getting the returns they deserve, they will eventually pull out, and this means the butchers and the pig dealers will be out of business. I am glad they have learnt that, and are embracing it,” said Dr. Mutua.
The Livestock Institute is also training farmers in pig farming methods, giving them information on the best feeding sources, and information on the best timing for breeding from sows (female pig) to produce the highest number of piglets, as well as vital health training. Key in this has been teaching farmers to tether their pigs to stop them spreading a type of tapeworm that can infect the human brain and is a major cause of epilepsy in Africa, Asia and Latin America, infecting millions.
People can also contract the parasite, Taenia solium, from undercooked pork, or from food or drink contaminated by feces from an infected person. Eating diseased pork can lead to tapeworms more than six feet long in a human’s small intestine.
They do not cause symptoms, but their eggs are passed in feces and infect pigs that eat human waste. If people ingest the eggs, a larval form of the worm can infect the brain and cause seizures.
Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter
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