When A1 became the game changer

26 Oct, 2021 - 00:10 0 Views
When A1 became the game changer

The Herald

Obert Chifamba-Agri-Insight

Last Thursday, Government launched an artificial insemination (AI) station in Chegutu under the European Union (EU) funded Value Chain Alliance for Livestock Upgrading and Empowerment (VALUE) project as part of efforts being made to increase production and productivity in pig production among smallholder farmers. 

Essentially, this initiative is part of an EU-funded Zimbabwe VALUE project running alongside the Zimbabwe Agricultural Growth Programme (ZAGP) and is funded to the tune of €7,3 million to implement activities in the goat and pork value chains in 20 districts. 

It will play a central role in the country’s realisation of its dream of producing 25 000 tonnes of pork up from 18 000 by the year 2025. 

A product of the successful collaboration of Government, the European Union, private sector and non-governmental organisations, the A1 station constitutes one of the six key strategic interventions of the Livestock Growth and Development Plan of the Agriculture Food Systems Transformation Strategy. 

The establishment of the AI station will bring numerous positives for farmers that include improving production, productivity and market competitiveness and also comes with less risk of spreading animal venereal diseases, reduces in-breeding, improves genetics and increases livestock numbers in a short space of time as opposed to natural breeding. 

It is also expected to address the decline in carcass yields over the years. 

During the launch of the station at Bradford Farm, Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development Deputy Minister Vangelis Haritatos acknowledged that the thrust of the project was in line with Government’s Livestock Growth and Development Plan of the Agriculture and Food Systems Transformation Strategy, NDS1 and dovetailed with SDG 2 on ending hunger, achieving food security and promoting sustainable agriculture.

The Chegutu AI station is one of the two to be established by the project in Mashonaland East and Mashonaland West pig production corridors and will naturally facilitate easy and localised access to top quality pig genetics by small and medium pig producers in the industry, which for years has been their biggest undoing in terms of productivity.

It is refreshing to appreciate that establishment of the station has also been accompanied by the importation of 245 high quality pig breeds from South Africa through the facilitation of the EU. 

The breeds include boars, which will be stationed at the AI station as part of the genetic improvement programme.

What this means is that the ball is now in the court for all enterprising farmers they need to be organised enough to mobilise financial resources to access the quality semen to improve their herds. 

Of course, they will need to engage experts for assistance when they implement the breeding process, which starts with the identification of animals on heat so that they will not waste semen on undeserving sows that will not be on heat. 

The launch of the Chegutu AI station comes at a time when pig farming is gaining ground as a vehicle for economic empowerment especially with the recent cattle deaths inspired by tick-borne diseases and droughts, which affected meat supply trends and created an opening for pork products.

It will, among other things, make it easier for farmers to access improved genetics and offers a window of opportunity for farmers to grow in line with the overall goal of the ZAGB VALUE project of transforming the pork value chain for the future.

The fact that the programme will be available in all of the country’s 10 provinces means it will be able to address the weaknesses and gaps in livestock value chains that have prevented the sector from increasing productivity, production and incomes to their potential.

Interestingly, it will also give traction to another project that had been in motion already the piggery scheme under the Presidential Livestock Input Support Programme earmarked to avail 10 000 weaners for distribution to farmers around the country who are expected to pass on breeding stock to the next farmer after getting the first litter. 

The AI programme for pigs will add more efficacy to the breeding process with those farmers that do not have boars only needing to secure semen from the station and inseminate their sows. 

If done properly, the programme has all the potential to expand rapidly given that pigs can have litter more than once per year.

And, while a lot is happening to mechanise and modernise farming, particularly on the cropping side, AI has also come in as a way of modernising breeding for livestock farming.

While crop farmers can choose crop varieties they need without difficulty, livestock farmers can now also choose to cross-breed their animals with breeds of their choice, which will inevitably see the pig herd growing.

Statistics from the Pig Industry Board (PIB) show that the number of pigs slaughtered at registered abattoirs during the first three quarters of 2021 is 7,6 percent higher than the same period last year. 

PIB deputy director, Mrs Erica Takaendesa recently revealed that 153 531 pigs were slaughtered in 2017 with 173 839 the following year, 194 155 in 2019 and 183 860 in 2020. 

This year, up to September, 143 255 pigs have been slaughtered. 

The statistics demonstrate that productivity is high among the commercial producers and as a result they contribute significantly to national meat output compared to the non-commercial producers. 

It is, therefore, apparent that the AI programme, that is soon to get underway, thanks to the setting up of the station will serve as an empowerment medium to farmers from other categories of production.

 It will enable subsistence pig producers to graduate into commercial producers, which will significantly increase pork production. 

According to Mrs Takaendesa, the national sow herd is estimated at 16 500, while the non-commercial herd at 40 000 and this clearly indicates that commercial producers are the major economic players in the pig industry. 

This, however, does not remove the smallholder subsistence producers from the matrix because they do not produce pigs for a particular market, but for them pigs play an important socio-economic role as a form of bank as the pigs get sold in times of cash shortages or unexpected needs in the family. 

The numbers are usually kept small, normally one to three breeding females, often times there are no abattoirs and productivity is low. The biggest undoing for this category of pig farmers is the absence of affordable funding on the back of perennial productivity and marketing challenges that make it difficult for the farmers to embark on ambitious projects. 

The availability of AI services will most likely influence the production scope for most of such farmers, which may see the national pig herd further expanding in response. 

Generally, the livestock sector contributes significantly to household and national food and nutrition security, foreign currency earnings and is a source of livelihood for about 67 percent of the country’s rural households. 

Supporting livestock production through initiatives such as AI is, therefore, a proven pathway for improved livelihoods and economic empowerment. 

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