Recovery from ASF remains uncertain as the country reels from COVID-19
STA. MARIA, BULACAN – In a quiet bend of Barangay San Vicente is a 1,500 square meter backyard farm of 62-year-old Ramon Cruz where he used to tend to 60 sows and fattens at least 600 hogs before the dreaded African swine fever (ASF) closed his business.
Interviewed at his pig farm five days after President Rodrigo Duterte signed Presidential Proclamation No. 1143 which placed the country under a “State of Calamity” due to the ASF outbreak, Mr. Cruz said while he longs to start his business again, he expressed doubts he could anytime soon.
“Wala pong pamalit sa pag-aalaga ng baboy,” he said after spending over 35 years in the business. He added people come to buy either piglets which he raised for four months or pigs with an average of 90 to 100 kilos after six months. However, his pig pens have gathered cobwebs since July last year.
He said they noticed symptoms similar to the Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS) which usually afflicts pregnant sows. Fever has also been observed.
“I was aware of the symptoms, but I was not sure it was ASF because I had no capability to test them,” he said. Those without any symptoms were bought at dirt-cheap prices.
Asked if he plans to begin all over again, Mr. Cruz, who regularly serves at nearby church, said he may not because there are no available vaccines yet.
“I cannot risk whatever is left of my capital because there is no guarantee I would have any return on investments nor my farm would be safe from ASF,” he explained.
He said the ASF’s impact was a solid blow to backyard hog raisers like him.
“I couldn’t explain how I felt when ASF hit my farm because it’s my blood and sweat that I shed to thrive in this business,” he added. Backyard hog raisers acquire feeds from their cooperatives or other suppliers, on credit and when the ASF outbreak struck their farms, all that’s left is their accounts that need to be settled.
“Prior to the outbreak, whenever we sell our hogs, we immediately settle our accounts with feed suppliers,” Mr. Cruz explained. Without access to credit, it may be difficult for the likes of him to “repopulate” their farms.
Mr. Cruz stated their Cooperative understands how their members are dealing with the outbreak and has not required them to settle their accounts soonest.
He said he lost about P1.5 to 2 million when the ASF outbreak hit his farm. He added he still has to hear from the government how it would attend to the backyard hog raisers’ concerns.
“They may release funds but how will they insulate farms from ASF when there are no available vaccines?” he quipped. He believes the virus would remain despite his efforts to disinfect his farm.
When asked of suggestions how to prevent the spread of ASF in the country, Mr. Cruz said strict border control should be made by the national government and for its personnel to strictly check on whatever meat products that get into the country through the ports and airports.
“Before the ASF outbreak, we needed permits from appropriate government agencies to transport our produce but today, imported meat products get into the country easily,” he said.
Mr. Cruz said he has his water station which tides his family over. He now attends to some chicken and sells eggs in his farm. He said he used to raise rabbits but had to stop because the Filipino palate isn’t open to rabbit meat despite being declared by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as highly nutritious.
“Raising chicken is not at all viable but it keeps me busy and focused so I find comfort in what I am doing,” he concluded.
In a related development, Dr. Reildrin G. Morales, Bureau of Animal Industry director, said the hog industry lost some three million heads from 2019 to nearly a month ago.
“It may cost in peso terms to P80-90 billion assuming the price of marketable hogs are at P10,000 per head. From three million heads lost, at least there would be 300,000 breeders projected to produce at least 5.5 million heads a year,” he said in an emailed answer to this writer.
Government estimates some 68,000 backyard farmers directly affected by the ASF outbreak. The national government has earlier earmarked P1.2 billion for backyard farmers, which would include a budget for multiplier farms, expansion of production in ASF-free zones and in ‘sentinelling’ in previously affected areas.
“There are three provinces with the ongoing implementation of the sentinel protocol with at least 54 villages covered. As of April 19, 2021, there have been 305 towns and cities with more than 180 days without any reported case as well as 84 towns and cities with less than 180 days without any ASF case,” he further explained.
Given the circumstances, backyard hog raisers like Mr. Cruz will continue to have second thoughts to revive his business once again as the country continues to implement quarantine measures to combat the dreaded COVID-19 pandemic. (Melo M. Acuña)
Backyard hog-raiser Ramon Cruz hopes the government would help them with vaccines and access to credit. (Melo M. Acuna)