African Swine Fever Wreaks Havoc in Cameroon

by 5m Editor
24 May 2011, at 2:27pm

CAMEROON - Despite attempts to stamp out African swine fever (ASF) in the north of the country at the end of last year, the disease has returned with a vengeance, with hundreds of pigs reported dead in the latest outbreak.

Pig farmers in Cameroon's northern parts are at wits end, contemplating their future and survival following a resurgence of the African swine fever, according to Africa News. In recent days, entire farms have been wiped out by the disease, eclipsing sources of livelihood for hundreds of farmers in the country's main pork-producing hub.

Robert Ngaikoumi, a major pig farmer in the Logone and Chari administrative division of Cameroon's Far North region explained: "I had over 200 pigs ready for the market and was planning on conveying them to the south of the country when disaster struck about a fortnight ago. The animals suddenly began dying and then the authorities issued a ban on the movement of pigs and before I knew it, they came and killed all of my livestock numbering over 300 animals. I don't know where I go from here."

Hundreds of other pig growers in the region are suffering the same fate. According to field reports, the Logone and Chari division was the only one of five in the Far North spared when the African Swine Fever surfaced in April 2010. It rapidly spread to the Mayo-Kani, Mayo-Danay, Mayo-Sava and Diamare administrative divisions; initially culminating in the sudden death of at least 3,000 pigs in just a few days.

Back then, Dr Casimir Marcel Ndongo Kounou, Coordinator of the Program for the Development of the Swine Sector in Cameroon, warned the plague could leave a death toll of 100,000. Contingency measures, including the mass slaughter of infected animals and a ban on the movement of pigs in and out of the infected areas paid off, despite the chagrin of farmers. By December 2010, veterinarians indicated they had successfully tamed the disease spread and scaled down mortality to nil.

The rejoicing was however destined to be short-lived, reports Africa News. While statistics and other epidemiological details are awaited, officials of the Far North regional Delegation of Livestock, Fisheries and Animal Industries say hundreds of pigs have already died since the fresh outbreak of the fever. They have warned of high possibilities of its spread into neighbouring Chad and Nigeria, especially considering that Kousseri, a locality lying on the border with the Chadian capital, N'Djamena, has also been affected.

According to World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), the plague is caused by the highly contagious African Swine Fever Virus, ASFV, endemic in sub-Saharan Africa. It is a double-stranded DNA virus, which easily replicates inside the infected cells and provokes a lethal haemorrhagic disease in domestic pigs, leading to death a few days after infection. Veterinarians say reddened ears, swollen kidneys and muscle haemorrhages are indicators that pigs have been infected. The virus also infects bush pigs, warthogs and ticks, a direct vector. So far, no vaccine has been developed against ASFV.

African Swine Fever first broke out in Cameroon in 1982, exterminating over 80 per cent of the country's estimated 1.6 million pigs. Ever since, outbreaks have been recurrent with undulating impacts on the country's pig population and food security. Dr Ndongo Kounou says almost yearly, pig breeding in Cameroon runs the risk of a resurgence of the disease between April and September. But despite the existing knowledge of the epidemiological pattern, he blames the careless attitude of farmers. He says generally they only reluctantly heed – or simply shun – instructions to confine their animals and disinfect their piggeries as well as report suspected cases.

Ngono Kounou says elsewhere, the situation is further compounded by the sparse information on ASF epidemiology especially in northern Cameroon. Few structured surveys have been conducted and under-reporting of the disease by farmers keen on profit-making also significantly hamper preventive measures, he adds. In northern Cameroon, Muslim populations are predominant and their dislike for pigs implies that farms are clustered in the few non-Muslim communities, facilitating infection in times of outbreaks.

Frustrated pig farmers like Ngaikoumni say until the sector is modernized via government subventions, many breeders will be obliged to contemplate abandoning the sector.

He said: "I am in Douala presently because my pig farms have been devastated. I am actually looking for possibilities of investing the little money I saved over the years elsewhere. I can no longer depend wholly on pigs to raise my family. I have lost close to 500 animals since 2010 and that alone, is motivation enough to look elsewhere."

Africa News reports that in the meantime, consumers in the south of the country fear a shortage in pig supply and a corresponding hike in costs of pork in the days ahead if the plague persists.

Further Reading

- Find out more information on swine fevers by clicking here.