Vietnam farmers in dire need of piglets to restock hog herds

By Vo Thanh, Dac Thanh, Tat Dinh   June 2, 2020 | 03:09 pm GMT+7

Replenishing their decimated hog herds hit by African swine fever remains a difficult task for farmers as the market runs short of piglets.

For days, Ngo Van Tan, 29, and his wife called everyone they could to find piglets, though with little success.

Tan used to have 20 pigs, including two sows. Pig farming is the major income source of the family in Huong Phong District in the central Thua Thien-Hue Province.

When his entire herd died in May last year due to African swine fever, Tan received VND11 million ($470) in line with a government program to support farmers hit by the incurable pig disease.

After surviving months with vacant pigsties, Tan and his wife acquired one piglet that managed to make adulthood, inspiring the couple to restock their herd.

"My family had planned to buy 10 hogs and two sows, but traders all said piglets are scarce and expensive."

For the past three months, Tan has only been able to buy four piglets at a total VND10 million. For now, he rears chickens to make up for the loss.

The pigsties at Ngo Van Tans farm in Huong Tra Town of Thua Thien Hue Province has been abandoned for months. Photo by VnExpress/Vo Thanh

Pigsties at Ngo Van Tan's farm in Huong Tra Town of Thua Thien-Hue Province have stood abandoned for months. Photo by VnExpress/Vo Thanh.

African swine fever was first detected in Vietnam in February 2019, and it spread to all 63 cities and provinces within seven months, forcing authorities to kill around six million pigs, or 20 percent of the country’s total number.

After adopting tough preventive measures, several provinces like Hoa Binh, Bac Kan, Lam Dong, Ha Giang, Hung Yen, Hai Duong, Thai Binh, and Nam Dinh announced an end to the disease after no pig death was reported for 30 days.

Two kilometers from Tan’s house, Tran Thi Ngui, 60, has had a hard time looking for piglets for over a month, with traders confirming the scarcity would continue.

Nghi used to raise five hogs. As her pigs were about ready for sale, African swine fever sowed havoc.

Hundreds of pig farmers in Huong Tra Town and neighboring Quang Dien District have suffered the same fate.

Le Hoai Nam, head of the animal husbandry division in Huong Tra, said it normally has a total hog herd of 25,000 but until today, only 12,000 have been restocked.

"It is now really difficult to replenish pig herds with supply so low."

And not only are piglets rare, their prices have risen two-three times to VND1.5-3 million, which many farmers cannot afford, he said.

In Quang Nam Province, which neighbors Thua Thien-Hue, Nguyen Thi Sau in Thang Binh District said she had 20 hogs culled because of African swine fever last year, and for months now, her pigsty has been empty.

After the disease left her area, Sau decided to restock the herd but with the cost of over VND1.2 million for one piglet, she could only afford three.

Nguyen Thanh Nam, head of the Department of Livestock Production in Quang Nam, said the province used to have 69,000 pigs but from mid May until now, African swine fever has killed over 50,000 sows.

As way too many breeding pigs have died or been culled, the shortage of piglets has come as a result, he said. The province’s total herd now stands at 252.000 pigs, down 41.5 percent against last year.

And as demand has far surpassed supply, farmers who have breeding pigs are now the winners.

Do Quang Diem Khanh, a farmer in Tam Vinh Commune, Phu Ninh District of the nearby Quang Ngai, said his pig farm was established following a closed model and therefore his herd had not contracted African swine fever.

"We now have 30 breeding pigs. We're selling piglets at VND350,000 per kilo, a price three times higher than before," he confirmed.

Nguyen Thi Lan in Quang Nam’s Que Son District said three sows from her herd that survived the disease have given birth to 33 piglets in total.

"Traders competed against each other to buy my piglets, at a price of VND1.3 million each," she said.

Do Quang Diem Khanh, a farmer in Tam Vinh Commune, Phu Ninh District of Quang Ngai Province holds a piglet in his farm. Photo by VnExpress/Dac Thanh

Do Quang Diem Khanh, a farmer in Tam Vinh Commune, Phu Ninh District of Quang Ngai Province, holds a piglet at his farm. Photo by VnExpress/Dac Thanh.

In Hanoi, a series of pigsties in Cat Que Commune of Hoai Duc District were left untouched in the final days of May.

The commune was formerly home to 500 pig-farming families but after the epidemic hit, only 300 have managed to restock their herds.

Nguyen Thi Hoan, 43, from Cat Que Commune said she does not dare take her eyes off a herd of 10 young swine she bought at VND4.3 million each, worried they may fall sick and die.

"It’s not easy to raise piglets. If just one gets diarrhea, the entire herd is affected and could die," she stressed.

Hoan used to have a herd of 130 hogs and sows. A total 120 fell sick and were destroyed. The remaining 10 could not breed despite her best efforts.

Vietnam has the world’s seventh largest number of pigs and is the sixth largest pork producer, according to the Ministry of Industry and Trade.

Pork makes up 70 percent of the average Vietnamese diet.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development is discussing collaboration with its U.S. counterpart to develop a vaccine against the disease.

Since African swine fever attacked Vietnam on May 25 this year, the country had destroyed six million pigs, or 19.35 percent of its total herd of 31 million, as counted in late 2018.

Of the number of pigs culled, over 4,000 have been destroyed within this year.

A total of 19 companies had registered to import 94,294 breeding pigs and by May 22, over 3,700 of such pigs have been brought to Vietnam.

Most recently, in a move to cope with the thirst for pork, Vietnam for the first time gave the green light to importing of live hogs.

Pork prices this month hit a 20-year-high of VND103,000 ($4.44) per kilogram over scarcity caused by African swine fever that broke out in February last year.

African swine fever spreads through bodily secretions. Pigs can thus get infected by contact with infected sources, mainly other infected pigs, pork and other pig-derived products, but also other contaminated objects, according to Food and Agriculture Organization.

African swine fever has spread to some 50 countries and territories.

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