Market incentives–not top-down regulation–needed to help poor farmers take advantage of East Africa’s burgeoning pig industry

Uganda railways assessment 2010

A family of pigs are at home on a section of overgrown railway track near Kumi, Uganda, September 2010 (photo on Flickr by John Hanson/US Army).

Editor’s Correction of 18 Jan 2012
Today we have corrected parts of this story to reflect the following comment from CRP 3.7 director Tom Randolph:

Lessons learned in other smallholder livestock systems—especially smallholder dairying in East Africa and India—is that a typical policy reaction to animal and public health challenges is to seek more regulation. The problem is that such regulation often proves to be toothless (i.e. cannot be effectively enforced by veterinary services) and ultimately anti-poor. We are pursuing alternative approaches that encourage farmers and other value chain actors to improve animal and public health-related practices by creating or exploiting market incentives rather than relying on top-down regulation. This will certainly be our approach as we engage in the Uganda smallholder pig value chain.’ — Tom Randolph, director of CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish (CRP 3.7)

East Africa’s growing human population and rapid urbanization are creating new opportunities for small-scale farmers to make money from pig farming. According to Tom Randolph, an agricultural economist with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), ‘pig production [in East Africa] is taking off and growing rapidly and there is a rising demand for pork and related products, particularly in Uganda.’ Uganda has more than 3 million pigs and over 1.1 million people across the country (17 per cent of households) are involved in pig rearing and trade in pork products.

Randolph was speaking at the ILRI Nairobi campus during a recent workshop to find ways of diagnosing and controlling the spread of cysticercosis, a disease caused by tapeworms that can cause seizures and epilepsy in people when they consume undercooked pork infected with the tapeworms. Inadequate disease control is one of the biggest challenges facing the informal pig industry in East Africa.

Most of the pork sold in this region is produced by small-scale farmers who keep 1 to 3 animals in ‘backyard systems’, and the rapid growth of urban areas is opening up new opportunities for small-scale producers to intensify their pork production to meet growing demand.

For farmers in the region, pigs are ‘a cash crop of livestock’ because they do not carry cultural and social values like cows and chickens. This means that pig farming, because of its nature as a commercial activity and the shorter production cycles of pigs, can offer significant economic benefits to smallholders. ‘By supporting pig farming, we will be helping women, who are the ones who typically tend to the pigs on these small farms, and families to improve their income and their nutrition,’ said Randolph.

Despite the great potential offered by poor farmers from pig farming, Randolph said ‘the sector remains largely “invisible” and poorly regulated because the region’s governments have not focused on developing it.’

Improvements needed in the sector include providing better breeds and improving marketing systems to capture the ‘value that is currently being leaked out of the system’. Dealing with diseases such as African swine fever and cysticercosis is also critical. ‘Early diagnosis of diseases,’ said Randolph, ‘will give confidence to consumers that the pork they buy is safe.’

See workshop presentation:

Making the front page: Pig-people disease

Cysticercosis, a preventable disease that affects both pigs and people and is endemic in many developing countries, is showcased on the July 2005 cover of the top scientific journal Trends in Parasitology. The journal cover features a farmer from Mbulu District of Tanzania with her pigs, linked to a review article written by scientists, including ILRI’s Lee Willingham. The article assesses the burden of two parasitic zoonotic diseases – cysticercosis and echinococcosis.

Zoonotic diseases

Cysticercosis and echinococcosis are diseases that can be passed from animals to people and vice versa (zoonotic). Rabies is a common example of a zoonotic disease.

Cysticercosis is caused by the parasite Taenia solium (pork tapeworm) and is found in many developing countries in Asia and Latin America, where pig-keeping and pork consumption are popular. The disease is becoming an increasing problem in sub-Saharan Africa. It is transmitted via accidental ingestion of tapeworm eggs from human carriers’ infected faeces. People therefore do not need to eat pork or keep pigs to become infected.

Echinococcosis (hydatid disease) is also caused by tapeworms, found primarily in dogs, but also in wolves, foxes and other wild canids. Humans and livestock become infected with the larval stage of the parasite via accidental ingestion of tapeworm eggs from infected dog faeces. People therefore do not need to come into contact with the infected animal to contract the disease. It is endemic in South America, North Africa, Middle East, Central Asia, Northwest China, United States, North and West Canada, India, Southern Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, particularly in areas where sheep are raised.

Cysticercosis is not transmitted directly from pigs to people. Instead, people become carriers of the highly contagious T. solium tapeworm parasite through ingestion of raw or undercooked infected pork, but this does not cause them to contract cysticercosis. The disease is passed on from people to pigs and from people to people through accidental ingestion of highly contagious pork tapeworm eggs through contact with infected human faeces. It is estimated that millions of people in Asia, Latin America and Africa are suffering from cysticercosis, where it is known to be one of the main causes of acquired epilepsy due to cysts in the brain (neurocysticercosis), which can result in death. The Trends in Parasitology article explores the losses in human and animal productivity as a result of cysticercosis and echinococcosis, and reviews how to assess the extent and full burden of the diseases on people and animals. Given the high levels of morbidity, some mortality, and the animal production losses, the authors argue that control of the diseases should be given higher priority because they are easily prevented. As a result of effective controls, many industrial countries are now free from porcine cysticercosis. The article concludes that more research would help scientists arrive at better estimates of the full burden and costs, which in turn would strengthen the political will to provide adequate technical and financial resources to combat the diseases. The article is available online to Science Direct subscribers at: Reference: Methods for assessing the burden of parasitic zoonoses: echinococcosis and cysticercosis. Trends in Parasitology, Volume 21, Issue 7, July 2005, Pages 327-333. Hélène Carabin, Christine M. Budke, Linda D. Cowan, A. Lee Willingham and Paul R. Torgerson. Further information on the ILRI website: For more information about cysticercosis – how it is transmitted and how the cycle of infection and reinfection can be broken – see ILRI’s Top Story Epilepsy, brain cysts and tapeworms. For the latest news updates on cysticercosis, see ILRI’s Livestock in the News Pig-People Disease page.

Epilepsy, brain cysts and tapeworms

Ten pigs went to market, some pigs stayed at home, all pigs ate human faeces… and so a deadly tale begins. Poor sanitation, poor hygiene practices, poor pig husbandry and poor meat inspection all fuel a vicious cycle that is destroying lives and livelihoods in many developing countries. A potentially deadly parasite, Taenia solium, known as the pork tapeworm, is being transmitted from pigs to people, people to pigs and from people to people. The disease Cysticercosis has been dubbed one of the neglected diseases of neglected populations. It is considered by the World Health Organization to be one of the few potentially eradicable diseases, yet it is now an emerging disease of eastern and southern Africa. Awareness and training activities are being organised in eastern and southern Africa to help combat the parasite that causes intestinal taeniasis in humans, cysticercosis in pigs and humans, and the potentially deadly human disease neurocysticercosis, which is the formation of (T. solium) cysts in the brain. Neurocysticercosis affects millions of people in Asia, Latin America and Africa. It is rarely found in industrialized countries or in countries where pork is not consumed for religious or cultural reasons. However, even in these countries more cases are being seen due to immigration, increased travel and importation of domestic workers from endemic countries. It is a disease associated with poverty and underdevelopment, and is endemic in many developing countries where raising pigs and eating pork are popular. Neurocysticercosis infection may remain non-symptomatic for years before manifesting as seizures, severe headaches or other neurological problems. It is also a major cause of acquired epilepsy in developing countries. It affects agility, concentration and in severe cases can result in death. The true extent of the problem is not known because tapeworm carriers often do not know that they are carrying the parasite. It can lie in the human gut for years without causing any symptoms. Major advances are being made in the diagnosis and treatment of people and pigs infected with pork tapeworm, but these diagnostic tools and medical treatments are not yet widely available in many endemic countries. A vaccine to prevent pigs from contracting the disease is also being developed. How it is spread Since the mid 1990s, more and more people in rural areas in eastern and southern Africa are keeping pigs, fuelled in part by a significant increase in the consumption of pork in both rural and urban areas. To poor smallholders in these regions, pigs represent a new opportunity in livestock keeping worth exploiting. In Africa cattle are highly prized, but they can be problematic – protecting them from disease and theft requires constant vigilance and sometimes round-the-clock surveillance. Pigs, however, are comparatively easy to manage, and are therefore becoming increasingly popular and important, especially in rural smallholder communities. Pigs, like so many livestock, can serve as a 'mobile bank', with one adult pig fetching upwards of US$100 at markets in this region. Many farmers will keep between one to three pigs and sell an adult pig at the beginning of the school year to provide for school fees. However, the increasing number of pigs being kept in eastern and southern Africa is raising its own set of problems, with a vicious cycle of infection and reinfection. This is not just a problem for rural areas, where most pigs are kept, but it is also a problem for urban areas where infected pork can be consumed, and where human carriers of the parasite can infect other people. Most worrying is the fact that people do not have to eat pork or keep pigs to become infected with cysticercosis. They can be exposed to the eggs from a human tapeworm carrier. Disease and poverty go hand in hand. Poor sanitation and poor hygiene practices all increase the risk of contracting diseases. In many developing countries, particularly in rural areas, human waste is generally disposed off in a pit or out in the fields, or in some cases it is simply thrown into the garden. In many poor areas, livestock keeping is rudimentary and pigs, like many livestock, wander about freely. When the livestock keepers and family members go out to the fields to defecate, their pigs will follow. Pigs like to eat human faeces and will trail out to where people have defecated to eat the stool. If these people are carriers of the tapeworm they will produce thousands of highly contagious eggs in their stool. These eggs are hardy and may survive more than eight months in the environment, particularly in tropical conditions; the climate in Africa is ideal for the parasite to thrive. This presents a health hazard not only for pigs, but also for people. If pigs ingest the eggs, they develop into the immature larval form of the parasite (cysticercosis) that can result in the formation of hundreds to thousands of cysts in the muscles of the animal. In areas where meat inspection and control is lacking, infected pigs are often slaughtered and the pork sold for human consumption. Eating infected raw or undercooked pork can cause people to become infected with the adult tapeworm form of the parasite (taeniasis). The parasite will remain in their gut, but eggs of the tapeworm will be expelled through their faeces. This does not, however, cause neurocysticercosis, which requires transfer of the contagious eggs from the infected person’s faeces to the same or another person. If humans come into contact with infected human stool and accidentally ingest the eggs, the eggs develop into the larval form of the tapeworm, which targets the muscles, the eyes and most commonly the brain (neurocysticercosis), manifesting as cysts. This may occur through direct contact with a tapeworm carrier’s infested stool, by putting contaminated fingers in the mouth, or through ingestion of water or foods that have become contaminated with the infected faeces. Awareness and control Pig traders have become aware of the heightened problem of cysticercosis in pigs. Many were finding that when the pigs they had purchased were slaughtered and inspected, they had cysts and were therefore condemned. As a result, some pig traders have become extremely vigilant and now routinely carry out checks on pigs before purchase. Examining the underside of the pig’s tongue is a quick, easy and cheap way of checking for positive signs of infection, but may only detect about 50% of the pigs infected. Visual observation of the pork meat can also be used to determine the presence or absence of the parasite. However, in areas where livestock and meat inspection are not so vigilant, infected pigs can be slaughtered and sold for human consumption. The increasing consumption of pork in urban areas means that infected pigs can be transported into densely populated areas, where the infected pork finds its way into human diets. These unwitting consumers then become carriers of the parasite. In poor rural communities where people are carriers of the intestinal tapeworm and pigs are allowed to roam and consume human faeces, it is likely that pigs will become infected with the parasite. For these poor livestock keepers, their losses are threefold – they lose the income they expected to receive from the sale of their pigs; they and their families lose a valuable protein source when the pig carcasses are condemned, thus increasing the likelihood of family malnutrition; and their own health and productivity are at risk from cysticercosis infection. There is also the risk of tapeworm carriers transmitting the parasite to other people. Prevention Cysticercosis can be prevented by interrupting the life cycle of the parasite at one or more points. Good pig husbandry, including preventing pigs access to human faeces, is one way to break the cycle. Total confinement of pigs is a possibility but only sustainable if integrated with other management practices such as housing and feeding with locally available materials and feedstuffs. Strict meat inspec

tion and control also helps to break the cycle, preventing infected meat from being consumed by people. Good hygiene practices and thorough cooking of pork can prevent people getting infected, or reinfecting themselves and/or infecting others. These measures require education and training of all involved, including pig keepers and their families, pig traders, meat sellers, and the general public – whether they eat pork or not.