Cambodian pig farmers who sustained losses from the outbreak of blue-ear pig disease five months ago now face the possibility of another mass pig cull following this week’s death of a Cambodian man from swine flu.
Yet many local farmers appear less concerned about a possible outbreak of disease than they are about the concrete threat posed by the cheaply priced imported hogs they say are ravaging their bottom line.
“The price of pigs has been decreasing since mid-2015 and local farmers cannot meet their daily expenses,” said Ly Laville, general manager of M’s Pig ACMC (Cambodia) Co Ltd, the pig farm of Mong Reththy Group. “Most small pig farmers have already given up.”
According to Laville, roughly 6,000 to 7,000 live pigs are sold each day nationwide, of which less than half were bred in Cambodia. He said imported live hogs sell for $1.75 per kilogram, while local breeders cannot afford to sell their stock below $2 per kilo.
As a result of cutthroat prices, local pig farmers with approximately 2,000 hogs are losing between $30,000 and $50,000 per month, while those with 500 to 1000 hogs are losing between $5,000 and $10,000 per month, he said.
M’s Pig ACMC, the largest pig-breeding operation in the country, has haemorrhaged more than $1 million since the start of the year, Laville estimates.
He argued that cheap imports from Vietnam and Thailand caused 30 to 40 per cent of Cambodian pig farmers to go out of business, and urged the government to intervene and protect the industry.
“If the government takes action to control pig imports it would encourage all farmers to continue pig farming, which will allow the country to better control the health of consumers as well,” he said.
Yong Chheng Khea, general manager of a pig farm in Preah Sihanouk province, said the business has lost about $40,000 in the past four months. He blamed both foreign imports and last September’s outbreak of blue-ear pig disease, which necessitated a cull in several provinces.
While the disease temporarily put a dent in the market, as some people avoided buying pork for fear of contamination, Chheng Khea said the low price of imported live hogs is far more damaging to domestic breeders.
“We have to sell our pigs at the lowest price, even when we know that we will not gain any profit, and if we keep losing like this we will no longer be able to survive,” he said.
“We are in debt in order to survive, and it is not only me, other farmers are in the same situation as well.”
However, Tan Phannara, head of the animal health office at the Ministry of Agriculture, said that despite claims from farmers, there was no evidence that cheap foreign live hog imports were undermining the local market.
He argued instead that an abundance of fish in local markets was pushing down the prices offered on live pigs.
“The supply of fish has increased and the demand for pork meat has decreased as a result, as the price [of live pigs] is dependent on that,” he said.
Phannara insisted that the government never allows the import of live pigs to reach a level where it harms domestic suppliers, claiming that fewer than 1,500 pigs were imported from Thailand last year, and even less from Vietnam.