Month: October 2013

The Story of Bob

Bob was a pig to behold. He came out wide through the chest, long in the body, and thick through the hams from moment one. He had thick, straight legs, and the personality to fit his looks. He was the first to the milk bar […]

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One Year Later + FashionABLE Celebrates Three!

Just over a year ago, when I stepped onto African soil for the first time, I didn’t know what to expect. What followed were ten days that still rank among the best in my life; not necessarily for what happened there, but for what has […]

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Tanzanian Pigs + Livestock & Developing World Ag

tanzaniapig

I love traveling and love it more when I can find pigs. I may even have to make it one of my life goals to see them on every continent where they exist — in all their glory.

The thing about countries in much of east Africa (where I am now) and the Middle East however, is that they have strong Muslim populations, and Muslim populations do not eat pork. (And in certain cases, such as with Israel, Jewish populations who also do not eat pork.) Where there is no demand for pork there are no pigs. Besides, pigs are often resource intensive and more difficult to handle and contain than other livestock, which I suspect also contributes to the reasons the extremely poverty afflicted do not try to keep them. Not everyone in rural Africa lives in extreme poverty and/or is Muslim however, and at least on the first count even if they are some still try their hand at pork production. So while it’s hard to find pigs, it’s not impossible.

Here, in Tanzania, the religious affiliation of the country appears to be largely split down the center with Christians and Muslims making up two almost equal majority groups. I’ve heard everything from 40/40/20 to nearly 50/50 with only a very small minority practicing other types of religions. A recent report from the U.S. Department of State quotes estimates ranging all the way to 60/36/4 Christian, Muslim, and “other” respectively. Whatever the case, our trip fixer, Erick Kabendera, a Tanzanian journalist and farmer himself, assures me pork is big business in Tanzania and that even some Muslims occasionally partake on the sly.

And sure enough when we visited a farm in the village of Mlanda pigs were to be found. Like most kinds of agriculture here there are two types of pig farmers; those whose focus is commercial production and those who are keeping a few swine for their family table and petty income generation. Vitalis Melove falls into the latter of those categories and it’s his sow pictured above with one of her seven young pigs.

When I rounded the corner of his mud-walled house to peek at the pigs I was told were out back all seven of the spotted piglets were stretched out in front of the makeshift pen containing their mother. And just like the pigs we raise at home they quickly scooted inside as I approached. Melove told me the pigs were one month-old and this litter was his one year-old sow’s first.

The sow showed a lot of wild-type characteristics. She couldn’t have weighed more than sixty pounds live weight, had a long bristly hair coat despite the mild year-round Tanzanian climate, rooted meekly in the dry bedding at the bottom of her pen with a straight snout that went on and on, and her tail dangled limply behind her. Her pigs had the body composition we’d expect of a one week old litter on our farm, and her lack of teat development despite the vigorous nursing behavior her pigs exhibited was probably not the least of reasons for this. Little milk makes for little pigs, and a quick inquiry into the sow’s diet revealed the reason for the scant milk production.

Melove told me he feeds his pigs corn cobs, husks, and stalks — though here corn is called maize — and, as you may know, they have virtually no nutritional value. Even for cows who have four stomachs and have evolved for thousands of years to grow and thrive on fiber-dense forages corn cobs, stalks, and husks are used for a dietary filler at most and far more often utilized as bedding instead. For pigs whose digestive tracts have not evolved to thrive even on nutritious forages such as fresh pasture, they’re essentially worthless.

Here, as in most developing countries that struggle with extreme poverty and food insecurity, the care and keeping of livestock is complicated. On one hand, most anyone would be hard pressed to look at farmers like Melove (who struggles to feed even his own children enough nutritious meals) and advise him to make better livestock feed and care a priority. On the other hand, one initiative or another has to go first and it’s not always clear which is the cart and which is the horse.

Livestock are an important part of the culture of small holder farmers in developing countries and could play a vital role in lifting them out of extreme poverty. Manure is valuable fertilizer, meat and milk are nutrient and calorie-dense sources of protein, and both the animals themselves and their various products often fetch good prices at market.

In the northern part of the country, in the village of Nambala, at the farm-education center run by Ndetaniswa Zadke Kitomary and her husband, Saanen and Toggenburg goats reared using more intensive techniques taught by Heifer International grow faster, produce more, and their kids bring prices comparable to those on the U.S. private goat market, for instance — all of which boosts farm income, improving living standards. And the methods demand far less of the Kitomary’s time, freeing them up to produce other foods and generate even more income.

I certainly don’t purport to have any answers, but the more I see and learn the more I’m convinced that while vegetable gardens and bore holes are a good start it’ll take a concerted agricultural effort that includes livestock in the equation to tip the food-insecurity scales.

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I’m reporting from Tanzania as a fellow for the International Reporting Project at John Hopkins University.

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