A lost opportunity?

Pig farming is among the most lucrative segments of the livestock sector. The reasons are many. Pigs are the most prolific breeders, delivering between six and 14 piglets in one go. Litters of eight to 12 piglets are fairly common. Their females attain sexual maturity very early, at merely eight to nine months age, and can conceive twice a year, if managed well. The cost of rearing them is relatively low as they can thrive on a variety of foods, such as damaged grains, unmarketable vegetables and fruits, kitchen wastes and various kinds of fodders and sugarcane leaves. Moreover, they are efficient converters of feed into meat and grow fast to put on the marketable weight of 60 to 90 kg in seven to 10 months. The returns on investment in the commercial pig farms, therefore, start accruing early. The herd size in a piggery can be expanded rapidly to scale up the business.

 

Yet, commercial swine farming has not developed to its potential in India. Religious and social taboos against tending pigs and consuming pork are partly responsible for this. But the factors like inadequate promotional effort and infrastructural and logistical constraints are also to blame. Pig husbandry has, consequently, remained confined largely to the poor households belonging to the lower socio-economic strata of the rural society. Only recently have entrepreneurs begun to invest in setting up commercial pig farms and pork processing industries to produce popular culinary products like sausages, ham, bacon and salami. Some medium to big modern pig farms have come up in states like Kerala, Punjab and Goa in recent years. A sizeable part of the demand of processed and value-added pork products in the hotels, restaurants and household sectors has so far been met through imports. The recent spurt in demand for pig fat for use as chicken feed and for the production of soaps, paints and cosmetic products is likely to give a further boost to commercial swine farming.

 

The systematic research on pig husbandry began in India in the early 1970s with the emergence of farm universities and livestock research centres. The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) also launched its all-India co-ordinated research project on pigs during this period with its centres in Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, to begin with. However, the piggery research and development activity got impetus with the setting up of the National Mission for Protein Supplements in 2012. The mission helped set up 16 nucleus pig breeding centres in different states, each having its own satellite field breeding units. They produced high calibre male pigs for distribution to farmers for breeding purposes.

 

Several new breeds of pigs have been developed by cross-breeding local and exotic animals. In fact, as revealed by the 2012 animal census, the population of exotic and cross-bred pigs is now steadily swelling, while that of the indigenous ones is on the slide though the latter still outnumber the former by a big margin. This is a cause of concern as pigs of desi breeds have many desirable characteristics that need to be preserved, preferably through backyard piggery. These have been recorded in a publication on “Swine Genetic Resources of India”, brought out by the ICAR. This publication, first of its kind, also lists advantages of the indigenous pigs over the exotic ones. The desi pigs are well-adapted to hot and humid climate, possess higher immunity against diseases, and can survive with low inputs and poor management. In some regions, notably the northeast, native pigs are preferred because of better taste of their meat.

 

This compendium on pigs recommends that the exotic inheritance in the cross-bred animals should be restricted to 50 per cent, barring exceptional cases where it could go up to 75 per cent. Besides, live animals — not their frozen semen — should be used in breeding programmes for better results. And most importantly, it stresses the need for conservation and registration of all the native breeds of pigs with elaborate documentation of their characteristics.

 

surinder.sud@gmail.com

 



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