Low cost sweet potato pig feed offer hope to millions of EA farmers

A sweet potato based pig feed is providing a low cost alternative to the prohibitively priced commercial pig feeds to farmers across East Africa who have been left at the mercy of the market forces. East Africa has over 5 million pig farmers in East Africa who have seen the price of conventional feeds more than double in the last three year.

The new feed based on a Vietnamese program that produced outstanding results a decade ago,  is made by fermenting sweet potato veins and tubers to increase their nutritional value as suitable meal for the hogs.  The fermentation turns roots and vines into silage which offers easy feeding for the swine and preservation of up to nine months. It is developed by The International Potato Center (CIP)

Once farmers harvest the sweet potatoes, the vines are wilted to reduce moisture content. The roots and vines are then chopped, mixed with supplements and stored in airtight plastic bags. According to the researchers, the improved feed will allow farmers to keep high-yielding cross-bred pigs, replacing much smaller and slower growing scavenging pigs that spread zoonotic diseases such as the highly contagious and fatal cystercercosis.

Other elements of the program include better husbandry, animal housing, and use of feed supplements and drugs, which are said to increase the weight of pigs and greatly raise farm income.

In Vietnam, the model reduced dependency on commercial feeds with 85 per cent of the over 8 million pig farmers recording 30-40 percent increase in their income after they cut down on commercial feeds. Results from Vietnam also indicated that small holder farmers who kept two to four pigs at the start of the project, increased their stock to over twenty animals within six months with the availability of the cheap alternative feed being the motivator.

“I,  of course, received harsh criticism from feed companies, who trashed it as low in nutrients, but our in-depth research shows otherwise. In fact this technology has 10 per cent more nutrients than commercial feeds,” said Maria Zagavelo from the International Potato Centre.

Farmers who have borne the brunt of the unprecedented increase in pig feed prices have welcomed the move saying it will restore the place of pig farming as the lucrative business that it used to be.

“I only keep three pigs at the moment, and I would have loved to do away with all of them. But I have kept pigs for the last 20 years and recall the days when they would fetch very high prices. Even the middlemen and pig traders knew how high they were worth. But the events of the last five months have discouraged so many of us.

But I knew a brighter day would come and we can’t wait to be trained on the new alternative feeding technology,” said Millicent Wekesa, a pig farmer from Western Kenya who bought her first two pigs from school fees she was given when in high school and decided to drop out of school to concentrate on pig farming. She has since expanded into horticultural and poultry farming to cushion herself from the erratic pig market.