One experienced pig farmer unlocks the potential of aspirant pig farmers, and farm workers, by using the pig farms of his clients as his classroom. He takes his teaching to where it makes a real difference to people and pigs.
Elder Phiri (50) of Chilanga, Lusaka, spent 30 years working in the commercial pig farming sector, solid credentials for a man who now teaches and advises pig farmers and the people who work for them.
This transfer of skills and expertise from experienced, knowledgeable farmers, to entry-level, developing farmers and managers, is probably the key to agricultural progress in Africa.
Elder says that a growing number of farmers come to him for help, looking for ways to overcome the major problems in pig production: keeping feed costs down; controlling and managing disease, and gaining an understanding of breed selection.
“Every month I go to at least four pig farms where I spend five days training everyone involved in handling the pigs,” says Elder. A few of his clients are big producers, but most are small- to medium-scale pig farmers.
He says his job is to make it possible for pig farmers to improve production. This could include a range of activities from helping with the design or upgrade of infrastructure, and improving breeding practices to giving advice on handling, hygiene and disease control.
“Pig production is an attractive option for developing farmers because it needs less land, and less of an initial capital injection than other livestock ventures,” Elder explains.
Farmers entering the sector have little to no experience in pig management, which has an obvious negative impact on production, says Elder. Poor animal husbandry and ignorance of diseases and disease prevention contributed to the swine flu outbreak in Zambia.
The outbreak cost the government colossal sums of money in compensation payments to farmers as animals were slaughtered to stop the spread of the disease. “There is always talk about what to do when this happens. But now farmers are not sitting idle. They are taking steps to manage the health of their pigs,” says Elder.
Lack of access to veterinary services is a barrier to progress in the pork industry. “Only about 20% of my clients call in their vets. It’s a cost and distance-related problem that contributes enormously to mortalities in Zambia’s pig droves.”
Introducing a good vaccination programme is a key requirement that will immediately reduce pig deaths. Because the government has put some focus on the livestock sector, as part of the country’s agricultural and economic growth opportunities, Elder feels government has a duty to improve and increase the vet services available.
The small-scale commercial producers would really benefit were this to happen, he adds.
At the start of his training career, Elder offered workshops that were well attended by farm and livestock owners. Most of the workshop participants were highly literate people of 35 (years) and upwards with full-time jobs. These farmers need to work while their agri-businesses get off the ground, and so the actual farming is in the hands of their farm personnel.
On the ground however, the reality was that the farm workers, the people who interact daily with the animals, effectively learnt nothing and the benefit of the workshops was lost. Solution orientated, Elder changed his training programme strategy and began to take pig production workshops to the farm. This way, Elder was teaching and training farm workers, who changed their behavior and their attitudes toward the animals in their care.
This forced Elder to re-structure his training to a five-day on-farm training. According to Elder, this was particularly powerful because it helped to change behaviours and attitudes to people tasked with the job of looking after the pigs.
“We immediately saw positive results. Pig houses were better cleaned, more often, and animals were put in to age groups, says Elder.
“This behavioural change is really all I need to validate my training programme.”
Elder visits the farm and looks at the pigs, the general infrastructure, the quality of management and the feeding programmes. He then conducts face-to-face interviews in which farm owners and farm workers answer a structured questionnaire.
The information gathered from these two streams forms the baseline data that Elder uses to monitor progress and develop the right interventions for individual farms. Interventions would include things like re-designing housing, changing roofing to the correct angle, repositioning feeding troughs and water nipples.
Many of his clients show an increase in productivity after the changes are made, says Elder.
BREEDING AND FEEDING
Elder recommends the Landrace, the Large White and the Camborough breeds. Through his training he aims to increase the average litter size from the current seven piglets per sow to 12 piglets per sow which is consistent with best practice production systems, he says.
Strongly against the traditional integrated mixed farming system, he advises his clients to separate groups by age and sex. “This helps with disease and feed management which promotes growth,” Elder explains.
He advises feeding brewers and millers by-products, as well as the commonly fed maize stalks. He emphasizes the need for feed conservation to provide a buffer in the dry season.
In the last six years, Elder has taken on-farm training to more than 200 farms in Zambia. He credits the growth of his client base to his Facebook presence and to word-of-mouth reporting from happy clients.
As Elder’s clients gain experience and improve their margins, pork is becoming more popular in Zambia and new farmers come into the sector. “This is a good sign for pork producers and indicates the growing importance of pigs to the livestock sector,” says Elder.
Contact: Elder on 097 867 9578