If there was ever a time where incentives could help reduce the spread of animal disease in South Africa, it is probably now. Since April 2019 there have been 14 reported outbreaks of African swine fever and all of the cases were reported in various areas of North West, Mpumalanga, Gauteng, and the Free State.

Incentives can possibly lead to better control

These outbreaks were mainly among smallholder farmers. A few cases in wild boars have also been reported. The local authorities responded by quarantining and controlling the movement of pigs in affected areas.

But the industry remains concerned that farmers may give in to the temptation to rush the rest of the herd to the market when they realise that some pigs in their herd are dying because of the African swine fever. This would present a risk of further spread of the disease (which spreads by contact).

This leads us to the point of incentives for areas that have been affected by the disease. While government finances are constrained, farmers should be incentivised to report the outbreaks so that the disease can be successfully controlled. The incentives could take the form of government payments to farmers for a portion of the market value of pigs to be culled because of the disease as provided for in the Animal Diseases Act. While it is unclear what the costs of this exercise would be, the risk of the disease could have bigger implications for the local pig industry, as is the case in Asia.

Education is key

Also, having observed that the most affected areas are the smallholder farmers in informal and rural areas, where pigs are kept for self-consumption and sales in informal markets, African swine fever could have social implications if pigs die or farmers are forced to cull their herds with no compensation.

Aside from incentives, increased education and awareness of African swine fever should also be prioritised, specifically among smallholder farmers. Hence, Agbiz was encouraged to recently learn that the minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Thoko Didiza, has set up a task team to urgently look into ways of curbing the spread of the disease to other provinces.

Consuming pork is harmless

From the perspective of human consumption, there is no threat posed by consuming pork products for two reasons. First, the spread has largely been in smallholder farmers whose product do not end up in the retail chains.

Second, even if the commercial sector was to be affected and not detected until the meat reaches consumers, African swine fever reportedly has no effect on humans, although consumption of affected pigs is not encouraged (the science side of the African swine fever has been discussed here). Moreover, combating African swine fever is key to improving South Africa’s self-sufficiency (Figure 1), as South Africa is currently a net importer of pork of about 26 000 tons a year. – Wandile Sihlobo, Agbiz

Wandile Sihlobo, head of economic and agribusiness intelligence at Agbiz, shares highlights in his update on agricultural commodity markets. Click here for the full report on agri markets for the major commodities.

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