- The government denies any cover-up
- Unlike its neighbours, Thailand had declared it was free of deadly African swine fever
- Small pig farmers hardest hit, 54% had to close
- Consumer pork prices at record high, likely to stay high for months
NAKHON PATHOM, Thailand, Jan 30 (Reuters) – Business began to slump for Thai pig farmer Jintana Jamjumrus two years ago after dozens of his animals became feverish and died days later. a mysterious disease which she suspected to be a viral disease with no known vaccine. , African swine fever (ASF).
This month, officials identified the first case of ASF in Nakhon Pathom province in Jintana, after years of saying it was not in Thailand, sparking a political storm as pork prices soared record near which they could stay for months.
“There’s no way they wouldn’t know. Pigs died all over the country… Why the cover-up?” Jintana, 75, asked about deaths from previous years. “What can they do now?” There is nothing left.
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In parliament, an opposition MP accused the government of a cover-up for years, although a deputy agriculture minister denied this, saying authorities had successfully prevented the disease in previous years.
But small farmers, whose losses drove 54% of them out of business last year, are skeptical, especially as the viral disease, for which there is no vaccine, has killed hundreds of million pigs in Europe and Asia since 2018.
“I had to let the sick die and sell the healthy ones,” Jintana said. “My things were gone. »
Earlier warning would have saved their livelihoods, say small farmers, and possibly averted the pork shortage that sent retail prices in Bangkok soaring to 215 baht ($6.47) per kg on January 11, the highest daily average from a database dating back to 2001.
High prices have led to a ban on live animal exports until April, and consumer prices could remain high as production could take months to recover, putting additional pressure on already rural communities. reeling from the loss of pigs.
Since the confirmation, Thailand has discovered African swine fever in 22 areas in 13 provinces and slaughtered more than 400 pigs, all on small farms, said Bunyagith Pinprasong, director of the Bureau of Disease Control and Veterinary Services.
Between 2019 and 2021, livestock authorities culled nearly 300,000 pigs deemed to be at high risk of African swine fever, although it was never detected in any sample of dead pigs, Bunyagith told Reuters.
Most pig deaths earlier were due to porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS), he said.
“We have implemented strict and effective measures to prevent African swine fever, which is why it has not been detected before,” he said. “We will control and curb its spread until a vaccine is developed.”
By the time Thailand confirmed the first outbreak of African swine fever this month, nearly 100,000 smallholders, or those raising up to 50 pigs, had disappeared, leaving just 79,000, according to government figures on the livestock industry.
The herds of small farmers have been halved to 1 million pigs, representing the bulk of the loss of the national herd, which stands at 10.85 million, down 17% from 13, 1 million from last year, according to the data.
Smallholders and smallholdings, or those with herds of 51-500 animals, normally contribute around 30% of Thailand’s pig production of around 19-20 million pigs, of which around 18 million are consumed in the market domestic and the rest is exported.
“The current decline in pig numbers is due to previous outbreaks, not African swine fever,” Bunyagith said, adding that PRRS and classical swine fever were the most common diseases in Thai pigs, with vaccines available for both.
“But whether it is PRRS or ASF, there will be losses for smallholders without a good farm management system.”
As small farms struggle, shares of Thailand’s largest food producer, Charoen Pokphand Foods Pcl (CPF.BK), surged in January to their highest level in nearly seven months, and shares of its counterpart Thaifoods Group Pcl (TFG.BK) hit their highest since April. .
The continued shrinking market share of small farms threatens longer-term implications for food prices, said Kevalin Wangpichayasuk of Kasikorn Research Center.
“The gradual disappearance of small operators means fewer players and weaker competition, which will have an impact on prices,” Kevalin told Reuters.
Bunyagith said raising new animals to fill the gap would take up to 10 months, so the government plans to offer loans to smallholders and new piglets to help rebuild.
But farmers said they had lost faith in the government and doubted pig farming could still generate income, at least until a vaccine was found.
Jamnian Iangjiam, 62, said she gave up raising pigs after two attempts to restart with new piglets which also made them sick.
“I’m in debt because I spent my last savings raising new pigs, and now I have nothing,” said Jamnian, his barns empty since May. “I finished.”
($1 = 33.22 baht)
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Reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Editing by Kay Johnson, Gavin Maguire and Clarence Fernandez
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