Wed | Apr 8, 2020

Deserted by Government, pig farmers look elsewhere

Published:Thursday | February 20, 2020 | 12:22 AMChristopher Serju/Gleaner Writer

Deserted by the Government at a time when the global pork industry is on alert for the deadly African swine fever, the Jamaica Pig Farmers Association (JPGA) has turned to the island’s two major feed companies – Hi-Pro and Nutramix – as well as processors and traders for assistance in establishing a National Pork Council to put the industry on a sustainable growth path.

President of the JPGA Annabelle Williams recently used the first of four island regional meetings in Mandeville to urge greater collaboration among its members, in light of the fact that the evidence suggests that the industry is being disregarded by the Government.

“In the 2019-2021 Government Policy Paper there is news on marijuana, news on goats, news on sheep, news on everything else but not a squeal about pigs. We are not being heard and so it is important that we collaborate more because if we don’t, then we are on our own,” she warned members gathered at the Caledonia Road office of Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA).

Williams further advised that the JPGA, in keeping with its status as a very active member of the Jamaica Animal Health Surveillance Network, was committed to keeping our borders clean and clear from disease, even as it seemed likely that it could get into a war over the importation of pork and pork products.

The industry, she declared, would like to see the suspension of the importation of even pig’s tail and other such items packaged in brine, which traditionally have been considered safe, with Jamaicans being educated on how to cook and use other pork cuts in their usual culinary exploits. And on that note, she also had a charge for pig farmers.

“We need to be in a position to say to the minister and all those involved in facilitating imports, ‘You can get it here’. We also need to be out there advertising, so we are going to be putting together a massive pork festival, probably in a large, central location like the Denbigh showground, Clarendon, where we can really pull out different pork products and educate consumers, as well as farmers about our safe, Jamaican pork,” Williams declared.

Planning for the pork festival is in its preliminary stages, but organisers are looking to November for its staging.

Meanwhile, executive member of the JPGA, Hanif Brown, insisted that the local pork market is being undercut by illegal imports. Citing his 30 years in the business, he noted that in Jamaica pork supply and demand continue to defy the laws of economics, time and again.

“Since November, everybody want more pork but for some reason the prices not climbing as a result of the so-called scarcity.”

This is unlike what happened in the latter part of 2015 going into early 2016 when the shortage resulted in the highest price paid to pig farmers in the history of the industry – $200 per pound live weight. By early 2016, businesses were pressing Government to open the door to imports but state officials after meeting with the JPGA executive supported it by not granting any imports.

The JPGA would pay a heavy price for that small victory, according to Brown. He explained that the association came under financial stress and got a shock when it turned to producers who had long supported it through sponsorship.

“That year when we stood for no importation, all our sponsorship went, as it was said that it was the association that had influenced the Government’s position.”

Brown, who is a former president of the JPGA, questioned the government’s commitment to agriculture in light of its abandonment of the industry. “If farming is going to enhance the growth of the country by its contribution to our gross domestic product, then we would expect that it would do everything to protect the farming industry, especially pigs/livestock, which is a highly capital-intensive business.”

Contrary to this, Brown posited that that recent developments show clearly that the industry is being manipulated to the benefit of others, not pig farmers.

“I have seen gluts occur all the time and when they occur farmers will sell their pigs, just that you sell it cheap. But in 2018 if we wanted to give away the pork, we couldn’t get somebody to take it from us. So the obvious question was, ‘Where were they getting pork.’

“I started offering two months’ credit at whatever price you were willing to pay and couldn’t get any takers. We hear from last year August that there is a shortage and I can’t $10 more for a pound of pork.

So I am saying that there is some outside interference in our markets, and if it continues, all our hard work will be futile.”