Currents of Change: Inspiring, Creating, Transforming

Currents of Change: Inspiring, Creating, Transforming

Monday, 5 November 2012

Pigs in Kenya- Miracle Workers

By Natalie Carter, PhD Student, University of Guelph
Investment vehicles, waste management systems, providers of tuition and healthcare costs, improvers of food security, enabler of climate change adaptation, enhancers of soil structure, fertility, and water-carrying capacity and, accessible to even the most disadvantaged members of society. What miracle worker is this? Pigs on smallholder farms in Kenya.

My PhD work involves developing feed rations for pigs on smallholder farms in the western province of Kenya. No it's not an attachment to pigs, or a burning desire to collect samples of unappetizing waste products fed to pigs (such as cattle blood and the contents of cattle stomachs) so that nutrient analyses can be done on them. It's because pigs, when fed natural renewable resources, provide money for healthcare, education, and food security, while making nutrient rich manure.

Resource-poor-subsistence farmers in Western Kenya grow all they can to feed their families on their less than 1 hectare of land. While primary education is provided by the government, parents must purchase uniforms and supplies. Many parents can not afford that so over 1 million primary aged kids in Kenya are not in school (UNESCO). Secondary education is never free. Parents pay about $150 per year for public day school and about $2,000 per year for private boarding school (where the quality of education is much better. Just 23% of high school aged kids are enrolled in high school (UNESCO). Incredible. Over 15% of people in Western Kenya have HIV. Studies show that education reduces the incidence of HIV/AIDS and treatment reduces transmission. Many smallholder farm families can’t afford education or treatment, so you see the problem. And I haven’t even mentioned malaria, typhoid, cholera, diabetes, high blood pressure, tumours, childbirth, tooth cavities, car accidents…you get the point.

This is where pigs come in.

The small land base needed, purchase price, and amount of feed they need, are often within the means of these farmers living on less than $1 U.S. per day. Pigs are piggy banks. Farmers own 1 or 2 pigs and feed them leftovers, waste from the floors of grist mills where grains are ground for flour, cattle blood and rumen contents, cassava, and weeds; investing small amounts in feed each day and selling pigs when medical emergencies arise or school fees are due (Dewey et al., 2011).  With no pig to sell, school and healthcare are often inaccessible.

Pigs are efficient waste managers; consuming slaughter and grist mill by-products and converting renewable natural resources like weeds and vegetables into meat and manure; providing income for farmers and butchers, improving food security and the nutritional status of communities while providing manure that improves soil fertility, structure, and water-carrying capacity.

Lately crop failure is common due to erratic growing conditions; dry seasons are longer and are followed by uncharacteristically heavy rains, making successful harvests rare. When crop failures happen, diversification ie. owning a pig means there is money for food, school, and healthcare.  

Spending the next two years of my life, finding economically feasible ways for farmers to better feed their pigs; making use of waste products and renewable natural resources, which are converted into meat for the community, manure for the farm fields, and provide much needed money to pay for food, healthcare, and education, will be time well spent.

Natalie Carter is a PhD student (epidemiology) in the Dept. of Population Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph.  She is an active member of the Ecohealth Club there, an interdisciplinary group of students and faculty interested in understanding and solving the big picture problems of human and ecological health.  In her spare time she leads the Tei wa Syana Community Initiative, a  community library and high school sponsorship program based in rural Kenya.

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