African Swine Fever in Nigeria hits rural poor

In the Nigerian state of Benue, pigs are valuable animals. Pork is the choice meat for weddings, funerals and other major social occasions and pigs are essential to a respectable dowry. Extended family groups commonly keep large herds of more than a hundred pigs. For the rural poor, pigs provide the cash for medical bills, school fees, taxes and fertilizer purchases.

Government poster to raise public awareness about ASF in Nigeria

But now pig-keepers in Benue - home to over 20 percent of Nigeria's pigs - are watching helpless as African Swine Fever (ASF) sweeps through their herds. By the end of September, over 60 000 pigs had died of the disease in Benue. More than 2 000 pig farms with a total of nearly 80 000 pigs were reported to be affected by the epidemic.

ASF is a highly resistant virus and a potentially devastating disease. Very few pigs survive infection, and those that do can be contagious. There is no vaccine. ASF can only be contained by quarantining affected herds, slaughtering sick and recovered pigs, and isolating herds at risk.

ASF is spreading in West Africa

ASF is endemically present in wild pigs in southern and eastern Africa. In West Africa, it has been spreading steadily over the last few years, devastating the domestic pig population with a severe impact on both indigenous and introduced breeds.

Following introduction of the disease into Côte d'Ivoire in 1996, 22 000 pigs died of ASF, and a further 100 000 were slaughtered in the drive to eradicate the disease. FAO supported the government through a Technical Cooperation Project (TCP), and in April 1997, the disease was reported to have been contained. (Go to Press Release) Benin and Togo were also infected and TCPs were started in 1997 and 1998 respectively. (Go to ASF in Benin)

In Cape Verde, FAO established earlier this year that the recent ASF epidemic is currently limited to two islands - Maio and Santiago. A TCP project was approved in April. The disease has been endemically present in at least part of the Cape Verde archipelago since 1985. Santiago island now has five or six infected zones. (Go to ASF in Cape Verde)

In Nigeria, ASF was first detected in the southwestern states of Lagos and Ogun and is thought to have entered the country through cross-border contacts with Benin. A TCP was set up in April 1998 to support the government in its drive to raise public awareness about the disease and stamp it out.

Women heads of household are hit hardest by ASF in Benue

Professor Timothy Obi, FAO EMPRES visiting scientist and veterinary expert, travelled to Nigeria in November and found that ASF has now spread far beyond the states of Lagos and Ogun. In a workshop with national veterinary authorities, it was reported that nine states are now infected.

The workshop expressed concern about "the serious threat posed by the disease to the food security in general and especially that of the rural low income population in the country".

Obi stressed that the ASF epidemic in Nigeria - and in Benue State in particular, where pigs are so important to low-income families - is having a devastating effect on women heads of households. "Most of the people who look after pigs are women, many of whom are breadwinners of their families. Payment of school fees is one of the first things to suffer", he said.

Compulsory slaughtering without compensation spreads ASF

According to Obi, one of the main driving forces behind the spread of ASF when control measures are implemented, is compulsory slaughtering of infected animals and animals at risk, without any compensation to the owners.

The threat of losing their animals with no recompense, drives pig-keepers to do two things to cut their losses, Obi explained. If possible, they will move their animals away from the infected areas, maybe to relatives in neighbouring states or countries. "In this part of Africa, sociocultural ties exist regardless of national boundaries", said Obi, "so it is relatively easy to move animals over the border to kinsfolk. Infected animals moved in this way spread the disease".

If they fail to avoid slaughter, pig-keepers may try to sell or give away smoked meat from slaughtered animals - often, again, to distant relatives. Meat from infected animals is infectious and any offal consumed by scavenging pigs will pass on the disease.

The recent workshop cautioned that "Slaughter without adequate compensation, will aggravate the already devastating situation by aiding further spread of the disease through mass movement of live pigs and pig products." It recommended that "compensation of pig farmers should preferably be done in kind to enable them to restock".

11 December 1998

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