With the African swine fever (ASF) affecting a large pig population in the State, the piggery sector has been badly hit and is in urgent need of interventions from the State Government to tide over the crisis. The spread of the deadly disease that had started early last year has made it apparent that the efforts aimed at checking the virus’ trans-border movement have failed and the virus is affecting more and more animals. This is a disturbing situation for the people engaged in the piggery sector which provides livelihood to lakhs in Assam and other north-eastern States. The gravity of the situation has prompted the State Government to resort to culling with over 300 animals culled so far. Many pig rearers had already been hit severely by last year’s Covid-19-induced lockdown and the current situation has left them completely in the lurch. The ongoing ASF attack has affected commercial and backyard farms alike, causing high pig mortality and resultant huge economic losses to the distressed farmers. The past one decade or so had witnessed a substantial growth in the piggery sector, with many educated youths taking to scientific pig rearing, making investments through bank loans. The prevailing situation has impacted them in an unprecedented manner and they are justifiably seeking government intervention. The districts of Dhemaji, Lakhimpur, Dibrugarh, Sivasagar, Kamrup, Kamrup Metro, Morigaon, Nagaon and Majuli have bore the brunt of the ASF onslaught, with official figures putting the death toll at 18,000. But the actual number, according to industry watchers, would be higher manifold.
The State Government is now mulling over a suitable rehabilitation package for the affected pig farmers. Among other things, this would include rescheduling of loans for the commercial pig farmers. The Covid-19 pandemic and the outbreak of ASF have also compelled the Government to restructure the World Bank-aided project under which slaughter houses and marketing units are to come up across locations in the State. However, it is to be noted that a large segment of the pig farmers in the State are not organized and this could effectively make the government interventions out of bound for them. The Government has to spare a thought for this segment and facilitate some immediate measures to ease the situation. As the deadly ASF does not have any vaccine till date, checking spread of the virus is the only way out but that is almost impracticable, given the widespread incidence of pig rearing and pig transportation in the region. That most of the piggery activities are done in unscientific manner also raises the risk of spread further. As for vaccine for ASF, success has so far eluded the researchers in many countries who are working on a vaccine for ASF. The lack of knowledge about critical aspects such as ASF infection, immunity and natural variation among strains has compounded matters further.