BETWEEN July 20 and August 10, 2019, Emile Iradukunda lost 44 pigs valued at Rwf700,000 in monetary value.
Iradukunda is one of the 52 farmers in Gisagara District whose 106 pigs succumbed to a disease that Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) has since identified as swine erysipelas—a bacterial illness that mainly stems from poor hygiene.
Veterinary experts say the outbreak is a threat to the district’s pig industry, which has 22,500 pigs.
If not contained, experts warn, the highly infectious disease could erode fortunes of pig farmers in the country who have an estimated 1.33 million pigs, according to statistics from RAB.
Farmers in Gisagara are now appealing for government intervention through timely veterinary services and insurance scheme for small livestock such as goats, pigs, and goats among others in order to cushion them against future losses.
The disease can be acute—characterized by sudden deaths, fever, painful joints, and skin lesions. It can also be chronic.
Iradukunda was left with only 23 animals out of the 67 that he had accumulated for the past three years when he ventured into pig farming.
“I wanted to expand my livestock business. I was planning to employ a veterinarian to help me regulate the amount of food that the pigs need, monitor their health on a daily basis and then disaster hit me,” he said.
The 37-year-old father of four said that the disease caused diarrhea in piglets.
For the adult pigs, he said, they would lie down and could struggle to get up while they also lost appetite.
Two pigs which got treatment were cured, he said.
He spent Rwf4, 000 to get one pig treated from the disease, which he says is a lot for a smallholder farmer.
“There should also be affordable medication,” he said. “The government should look for ways small livestock farmers can get their domestic animals insured so that they do not incur losses on the projects they have undertaken.”
In April this year, Rwanda launched an agriculture and livestock insurance scheme in a bid to protect farmers from losses caused by diseases, accidents, as well as disasters.
However, the scheme will be piloted for two years covering only maize and rice for crops and cows for livestock.
After two years, it will be extended to cover other livestock before being extended to all crops, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources.
Augustin Twagirumukiza, Director of Agriculture and Natural Resources in Gisagara District told The New Times that although the country has witnessed the outbreak of swine erysipelas in the past, it never had a major impact on the pig industry like this recent one.
As the disease struck Mukindo Sector in Gisagara District in the past months, the sector did not even have a veterinary officer because he had been transferred to another region.
Now, Twagirumukiza says that the sector has new veterinary personnel to work with farmers.
Dr. Solange Uwituze, Deputy Director-General of Animal Research and Technology Transfer at RAB said that swine erysipelas is associated with poor hygiene on the farm.
“Whenever hygiene standards are not respected (cleaning, getting rid of feces and urine without forgetting to disinfect), this disease manifests itself,” she said. “It is not a particular disease to Gisagara, it can occur in any farm where hygienic conditions are not respected or if there is an infected pig introduced into the herd.”
Uwituze said that if a boar is ill with fever and shows skin lesions, treat it immediately and do not use it for mating for a minimum period of four weeks.
Alternatively, she said, cross mate with boars that have no disease history or use AI (Artificial Insemination).