Pig farmers have swamped me with calls and emails in the last three months seeking help for their animals.
One farmer from Juja lamented, “Is this government serious? I’ve lost all my 500 pigs in two months and nobody is giving me a diagnosis.”
Another farmer from Isinya said he had lost his entire investment of 400 pigs in three months. Maina, also from Isinya, called me two weeks ago to find out what could have killed his large herd of pigs, leaving him with about 40 which were dying at the rate of two per week.
“Doctor, my dream pig farm has just faded away but I won’t give up,” he concluded.
The reports are mainly from Thika, Juja, Ruiru, Ruai, Isinya and Limuru in Kiambu and Kajiado counties, which have plenty of swine farmers and slaughterhouses.
Thika, which appears to be heavily affected, has the distinction of being the pork eaters’ capital of Kenya, with about 30 well-patronised pig eateries.
In addition, Thika has a pig slaughterhouse, and also neighbours the famous Kabati pig abattoir, where pigs are congregated from all over the country by butchers to feed the growing pork market.
I see a good recipe for disaster in the combination of pig eateries, a busy pig slaughterhouse and increasing pig farming in the same area, especially when strict pig production and pork processing hygiene practices are deficient.
After extensive discussions with the farmers and relevant veterinary authorities, I am of the opinion that the devastating disease is African Swine Fever (ASF).
The veterinary authorities and other veterinarians have also come up with the same clinical diagnosis, but disease reporting and control protocol demands that notifiable diseases like ASF be confirmed by government laboratory diagnosis and declared by the Director of Veterinary Services (DVS).
A notifiable animal disease is any that is required by law to be reported to the DVS at the county and national level. The reports enable the DVS to monitor the disease and provide early warning of possible outbreak pending laboratory confirmation. In case of ASF, the government requires all the affected herds to be destroyed and pig farming on the premises be put on hold until the farm is declared free of the disease.
While in some countries there are compensation policies for depopulation of affected herds, Kenya does not have such. Depopulation is done at the expense of the farmer.
UTMOSST STANDARDS OF BIOSECURITY
The lack of a compensation policy is a daunting hindrance to the control of ASF. My experience is that farmers quickly sell off their animals for slaughter once the disease is suspected thereby spreading it.
Normally, pig farmers are only interested on how to protect their animals from the disease and safeguard their investment. However, it is important for farmers to appreciate their big role in keeping ASF at bay. They must understand and practice utmost standards of biosecurity.
Biosecurity means a combination of knowledge on disease profile and spread and taking measures that keep the farm free of the virus by creating barriers or killing the virus before it reaches the pigs. ASF has no cure or vaccine but does not affect humans.
My talk with the farmers and the Kiambu County Director of Veterinary Services (CDVS) revealed some key biosecurity violations that have cost pig farmers dearly. Dr Philip Ndarwa, the Kiambu CDVS, confirmed that there was suspected ASF in the county and his office has been educating farmers on managing the disease.
Further, his office has submitted samples to the Veterinary Research Laboratories at Kabete and was awaiting the confirmation results. In the meantime, the CDVS has advised farmers to ensure their pigs are confined to their enclosures from birth to slaughter in line with pig production legal requirements.
They are also to be fed commercial rations from reputable manufacturers and access to the animals should restricted to the workers and farm owners. All pig farms should have disinfection baths at the entry and entry to the animal houses. Sodium bicarbonate (magadi soda) and hypochlorites such as Jik are examples of effective disinfectants.
Farmers should consult their veterinary service providers for advice on the disinfectant mixing ratios with water.
Dr Ndarwa further implores all pig farmers should consult their veterinary service providers if they have sick pigs and to attend training sessions when called by the Directorate of Veterinary Services. All pigs being sold should have a veterinary health certificate and a movement permit.
In Thika, the county’s team has identified the Kang’oki dumpsite as a source of the spread of the suspected ASF.
People rear pigs around the dumpsite and others collect food waste from the site to feed their animals. The waste is actually food waste from the pig eateries or material contaminated by such waste and is suspected to carry the ASF virus.
MOVE FROM FARM TO FARM
Contrary to common belief that pigs can feed on anything, they should be fed on high quality feeds that are clean and free of any disease-causing organisms. This way, their meat is safe to humans and the animals are also safe to others and the farmer’s investment.
Maina in Isinya had grouped with other pig farmers and contracted one feed distributor to supply them directly to their farms as cost-effective measure. Unknown to the farmers, they had just created a disease distribution system that got all their pigs infected with ASF as the vehicle and people moved from farm to farm. I recommend farmers obtain their own feeds and thoroughly clean and disinfect the vehicles every time they complete the delivery.
Farm workers should be provided with overalls, handwashing facilities and footwear that is easy to disinfect such as gumboots. Everyone including the farm owner should be subjected to very high standards of hygiene.
The other human transmitters of ASF are pig traders who buy animals from all over the country and deliver to the slaughterhouse or distribute to other farmers. These people should never be allowed into the pig sheds unless they change clothing and disinfect themselves before entering the pig houses.
I recommend that an advance one-person party who is properly dressed and disinfected selects the pigs to be bought and the farm workers drive the selected animals to the farm gate for loading.
Veterinary service providers are another group of human transmitters of ASF because they move from farm to farm attending to animals. Farmers must ensure that these valuable partners are subjected to even higher biosecurity conditions than any other person.
Most farmers and pig traders find these biosecurity recommendations drastic but the good news is that those following the advice have been spared the suspected ASF scourge.