Swine fever depletes PH hog inventory by 24%
The country’s hog inventory dropped by 24 percent in January, its lowest beginning stock in 25 years, as the African swine fever (ASF) devastated commercial and backyard piggeries in many regions, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA).
The PSA also reported that the number of grower pigs—or those used for breeding—were reduced by 29 percent.
Eleven of the country’s 17 regions recorded lower outputs while both commercial and backyard farms saw a sharp drop in their inventories.
These were the Cordillera Autonomous Region, Ilocos region, Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon, Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon), Bicol, Central Visayas, Davao region, Soccsksargen (South Cotabato, Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani and General Santos), Caraga and the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
In a country where pork is considered the main source of protein, the widespread presence of ASF is alarming.
Rising pork prices
The disease catapulted pork prices by as much as 44 percent, prompting the government to impose price ceilings on pork sold in Metro Manila’s public markets and supermarkets.
Hog raisers and traders, however, protested the price caps by refusing to supply pork to market sellers since Monday in order to cut further losses.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the country had a shortfall of 400,000 metric tons of pork. Given the local shortage, industry experts said outsourcing would be the likeliest option and that somebody would need to foot the bill amounting to about P60 billion.
“The industry would need money—lots of it—to combat ASF,” said Jess Cham, president of Meat Importers and Traders Association.
“ASF is a global concern. Other countries took 20 years to eradicate it, and they have the logistics and technology,” Cham said.
Chester Warren Tan, president of the National Federation of Hog Producers Inc., said that in the next five to eight years, hog raising “will continue to be a high-risk business.”
“Those who decided to stay are taking a gamble and will need the support of the government, all the industry stakeholders, to stabilize prices and bring production up,” Tan said.
Concerned parties have yet to agree on how to approach the problem. Producers want the government to extend financial aid to the local industry to encourage former hog raisers to reinvest, while economists suggest reduced tariffs on pork imports to immediately squash the high retail prices.
The government is trying to do both, stressing that it aims to complete hog repopulation and recovery programs in the next two to three years.
Until then, consumers are expected to rely on imported frozen products. Imports are currently dominating freezers in cold-chain facilities, according to the National Meat Inspection Service.
On Wednesday, the regional office of the Department of Agriculture (DA) confirmed the presence of the disease in Masbate, the third Bicol province to be stricken after Camarines Sur and Catanduanes.
Industry players said the disease might have come from Bicol mainland and slipped through Masbate’s seaport in the capital city, where security protocols could be lax.
Depopulation efforts are now being discussed, although the DA has yet to confirm an outbreak.
In Albay, authorities placed six towns and a city in the province on “hog traffic lockdown” after declaring these areas “red flag zones” for ASF.
A red flag means that the entry and exit of live hogs and processed pork products from these areas would be prohibited as a measure against the spread of the disease.
Areas on lockdown are the towns of Pioduran, Polangui, Oas, Daraga, Bacacay and Malinao, and Ligao City, said Dr. Pancho Mella, chief of the provincial veterinary office.
So far, Mella said 827 hogs in the province had been culled since late last year to stop the spread of the disease. The latest to be slaughtered were 109 hogs in Malinao after they tested positive for the disease.
A total of 163 hog raisers in Albay have suffered losses estimated at P9 million and have yet to recover, Mella said.
In Misamis Oriental province, agriculture authorities confirmed that ASF caused the deaths of hogs in two towns and two villages in Cagayan de Oro City in the last week of January.
Councilor George Goking, chair of the city council’s trade and commerce committee, said he expected prices of pork to go up in public markets.
Dr. Benjamin Resma, the provincial veterinarian, told a radio interview on Wednesday that at least 37 hogs raised in backyard farms died in the towns of Manticao and Initao. —WITH REPORTS FROM MAR S. ARGUELLES AND JIGGER J. JERUSALEM