The country’s agriculture has long been heavily dependent on maize and tobacco cultivation.
In a push to diversify, pig production has been on the rise as well. Despite encouraging steps, there is still a long way to go.
Tobacco and then a long time nothing. This is what the country’s agricultural market looked like for many years.
In times of prosperity, the country exports a lot. In lean times and adverse weather, however, this one-sided approach deepened poverty and hunger.
Recently, there have been first steps to change the focus—and pigs are part of the shift.
In 2008, a livestock survey showed a modest growth from 481000 pigs in 1997 to 1.23 million just over 10 years later.
At that time, pigs were the third-largest livestock population in the country after chickens (44 million) and goats (3.1 million).
By 2015, researchers at the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Luanar) showed the population of pigs had suddenly shot up to 3.65 million.
This is roughly comparable to the pig herd in Austria.
Even year-on-year, the herd is growing at almost 16.53 percent, as in 2013/14 the pig inventory in Malawi stood at 3.13 million.
Pork now ranks as the country’s second highest earner in the livestock sector traditionally dominated by cattle and goats.
This makes pigs an important segment of agri-business. It contributes about seven percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) and about 20 percent of the value of total agricultural production.
So why does Malawi seem to have suddenly discovered pig production in recent years?
First of all, in the background, there are demographics and economic factors.
According to the National Statistical Office, Malawi’s population increases at roughly 3% per annum.
This leads to increased urbanisation and an increased household income that induces demand for livestock products.
The increased involvement of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in implementing livestock projects has increased the number of animals and players in livestock development.
Besides, there is increased awareness of the importance of livestock.
Many see livestock as a tool to alleviate poverty, diversify income and for enhancing food security within rural growth sector as crop yields are waning and droughts become frequent.
Agribusiness, which include piggery, was one of the priorities of the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS), an overarching government policy for poverty reduction and sustainable economic growth in the country.
Livestock production can be complementary to other incomes for families in the country. Many rural households complement their incomes this way.
Government encourages pig farmers to form cooperatives to improve bargaining power, reduce costs, tap into better extension services, enhance quality of piggery products and link themselves to high value markets for high productivity and profitability.
Pig production in Malawi can roughly be divided in to three different systems.
Just under 12 percent of the total pig production is entirely commercial. They mostly rear exotic breeds such as Large White and Landrace. They can afford prepared feed rations and decent water and recommended practices for herd health and management.
Medium input production and low input production systems are, however, the most commonly found.
Pig breeds are basically Landrace, Large White and crosses with indigenous species. They are housed full-time and their feed may consist of commercial rations, home-made rations, house refuse and industrial wastes.
These pigs may be kept in paddocks often with access to grazing.
Scavengers on the loose
Lastly, low-input production systems mostly comprise free-range indigenous breeds that are only occasionally housed.
Interestingly, the roaming pigs on this ‘scavenging system’ contribute over half of all pork consumed in the country.
But the widely practised system is not recommended due to its high risk of diseases.
However, in the commercial and semi-commercial systems, usually the number of sows is limited—often one or two—and most farmers are not trained in heat detection, pricing, feed formulation, business management and other key aspects of pig farming.
As a result, productivity is low and capital inadequate.
Timothy Gondwe, a researcher at Luanar and one of the scientists behind the recent production figures, notes that there has been progress in livestock development since government developed the National Livestock Strategy.
In 2006, government adopted the National Livestock Policy.
Nevertheless, Gondwe remains critical.
“Despite the increase in production by numbers, the increase in production does not match the demand for livestock products,” he says.
Gondwe adds that government often faces implementation challenges of its policies, leading to competition between crop and livestock sectors which are supposed to complement each other. n
*This article was first published by German magazine, DLZ Primus Schwein. It has been adapted from Pig Progress.