Sweet potato and pigs in PNG

Nari, Normal

The National – Tuesday, June 28, 2011

SWEET potato is our most important food crop and pigs are our most popular livestock.  
Looking after pigs has become an important part of PNG lifestyle, particularly for traditional exchange purposes.
In the predominant smallholder mixed pig and sweet potato production systems, sweet potato provides both human food and pig feed. This dual purpose role creates an apparent competition between humans and pigs for the tubers.
This means that increased use of the crop for either purposes imposes trade-offs in its potential use for the other purpose. 
Introduction of improved technologies into the traditional sweet potato-pig system can generate productivity gains at farm level and reduced wastages at harvest.
Furthermore, preservation and storage of excess tubers and vines for extended use after harvest can add value to garden forage.
Village farmers regularly provide much of their excess sweet potato production to pigs, like other garden produced feeds such as cassava, coconuts and fresh forages. The forage is offered to pigs either cooked or fresh and this practice has not changed for many generations. 
The practice has worked well for subsistence needs.  
But subsistence food supply and social security are no longer the primary objectives for many livestock farmers who want to improve their livelihood options in PNG’s emerging modern cash economy.
The demand for meat products is rising because of increased incomes, urbanisation and expansion of the middle class population owing to the rapidly growing mineral and gas resources.  
Growing formal market also provides incentives for better quality of meat in the form of higher market prices. While this scenario offers opportunities for smallholder livestock enterprises to grow, it also presents three key challenges:
*Can the natural growth of large scale commercial livestock farms alone meet the fast growing demand for meat?
*How can smallholder pig farmers actively participate in the formal market supplying consistently standardised products?
*How will the general public be affected by these changes in supply for and demand of meat, in particular, will the local prices of meat remain affordable to the consumers?
Pigs are a source of popular meat protein in the country, more so in the highlands. But, like other animal meat products, much of the pork meat available in supermarkets is either produced by large scale piggeries or imported cheap cuts.
Local small-scale pig farming has not provided pork competitively to the formal market due to limitations in production, uncompetitive cost of production and marketing that create inconsistency of supply and poor quality product.
Where sweet potato is grown either for own consumption or sale, the excess or the waste are always available for pigs. With improved efficiency and productivity at farm level, making full use of the dual purpose sweet potato can lead to increased efficiency and profitability for both livestock and crop farmers.
It is estimated that only a small proportion of sweet potato in the highlands is traded at major urban markets. It is also estimated that only half of the three million tonnes of sweet potato produced annually is consumed by people. The other half is either fed to pigs or wasted.
The excess sweet potato tuber would be sufficient to raise about two million pigs, when fed on a mixed ration (1:1) with a commercial grower feed. This number of pigs would supply up to 100,000 tonne of carcass meat annually. 
By one estimate, this amount of pork meat is enough to satisfy the demand of more than nine million consumers annually, and a conservative estimate of the carcass value would be K600 million.
This is a huge contribution to national product.
From the perspective of livestock farming, it is reasonable to suggest that local sweet potato production may supply adequate forage feed, as tubers, fresh green leaves and vines for pig keepers. This is apart from sweet potato supply for household consumption or sale.
NARI has undertaken various studies to develop improved livestock feeding systems, using locally available feed resources to provide options for smallholders who could not afford commercial feeds to raise their livestock.
Some breakthrough has been made from these studies which saw the release of an adapted technique for ensiling of sweet potato for storing and feeding pigs.
This technology package was officially released by NARI to the farming community during last year’s agricultural innovations show .
Smallholder poultry growers will also benefit from a poultry feeding system technology released during this year’s agricultural innovations show in May. This technology also involves the use of locally available feed resources such as sweet potato aimed at reducing the cost associated with commercial feeds.
NARI will continue to advance research and development of livestock feeding systems to assist smallholder farmers in the country.
For more information on the livestock feed systems, contact the livestock research and development project leader on telephone (675) 475 1066 or email to [email protected].