By MICHAEL DOM
SMALLHOLDER pig farmers in Papua New Guinea have opportunities to increase their participation in the fast-growing domestic pork market.
In this country, pigs are associated with wealth and status.
Wherever there is greater wealth or elevated status, pigs and pork consumption will increase proportionally. In general, where there is greater economic activity, there is more demand for pork.
Fuelled by the expected rapid expansion of the national economy, the same trend is expected for poultry, goats, sheep and aquaculture.
Pigs have a long history of domestication than other livestock species among indigenous communities, particularly in the highlands.
Pig keeping is closely attuned to everyday village farming activities, where there are convenient store of surplus or unutilised food and waste garden forage or kitchen scraps converted into a more valuable end product.
As such, they offer enormous strategic advantage to improving the livelihoods of many rural communities.
The challenges of pig farming are related to the scale and orientation of production. Smallholder piggeries now have a competitive advantage in realising benefits from recent research advances in improved feeding systems by NARI.
Commercially oriented pig farming is of two major categories:
1.The large-scale intensive piggeries such as Rumion Farms Ltd and Boroma Ltd; and
2.Smaller scale, semi-intensive piggeries, which are common throughout the country and may house anywhere from 20 to 100 pigs.
Even without the advent of recent mining developments, the demand for animal protein is rising and there is a shortage in supply of pork, beef and lamb from within the country. In fact, PNG has long been a net importer of meat and milk over the years.
In a recent survey of wholesale and retail outlets in Mt Hagen, it was noted that imported pork meat cuts of lower quality, such as jowls and tails, were sold at K9.45 to K12 per kilo, whereas locally sourced (Lae) higher quality cuts were priced at K18.50 per kilo (legs) and K26.90 per kilo (fillets).
The current market value of both low and high quality pork meat cuts presents an opportunity for improving local production to cater for domestic demand.
However, the competitive advantages for smallholders need to be properly addressed and one deciding factor is appropriate feed for growing pigs to finish weights suitable for slaughter.
For livestock farming on any scale, the availability of nutritious feed resources, processed, stored and supplied at sufficient volumes is critical and stands as a major obstacle to improving productivity of small scale piggeries.
Improved use of locally available feedstuffs has been closely investigated by NARI’s researchers for pig and poultry production. The most promising local feed resources are sweet potato, cassava, taro and banana.
Equally useful are agro-industrial by-products such as copra meal, palm kernel meal, pyrethrum mark and poultry offal concentrate.
Each of these are very rich in one or two essential nutrients and need to be complemented by other feedstuff to make balanced rations that meet nutrient requirements of productive animals.
Options for processing feed materials include either drying and milling into meals or ensiling as a fermented product. The latter is more energy efficient because the forage is processed and stored fresh or with minimal sun drying.
Practicalities of ensiling sweet potato for feeding pigs have been investigated through on-station and on-farm trials. The technology is now available for further piloting and adoption by smallholder farmers.
Smallholder pig farming has the potential to raise rural farming families from simple subsistence agriculture to active players in the formal market through commercially oriented farming activities that are economically viable and sustainable.
This adapted sweet potato-pig feeding system requires forage that may be easily sourced from local gardens and markets. Rural workers can be involved in supplying forage to pig farms, as ensiling or piggery labourers or through providing services such as transport and supply of other needed feed resources and materials.
But this agri-business development process must be facilitated by enabling access to information on application of proven technologies, appropriate farm tools and machinery essential to handle routine feed processing tasks, and rural credit.
There is also the need to support such farms to meet minimum quality and safety standards for them to actively participate in the fast growing formal meat markets.