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African swine fever rips through parts of southern Indonesia

Baby pigs in Cameroon. Image courtesy of IAEA Imagebank/Flickr.

  • An outbreak of African swine fever has flared up in the Indonesian province of East Nusa Tenggara, officials say, killing tens of thousands of pigs.
  • The island of Flores, famous for its Komodo dragons, is particularly hard hit, with a single district there losing up to 40% of its pigs.
  • An official with a local nonprofit working with farmers and fishers says the death toll may be far higher because many pig farmers aren’t reporting the deaths of their animals to authorities.
  • The swine flu outbreak also threatens Southeast Asia’s various wild pig species, many of which are rare and endangered.

African swine fever is seeing a resurgence in Indonesia’s southern East Nusa Tenggara province, government officials say, undermining food security and fueling fears that the viral disease could jump to other species.

The disease has done the most damage in China, where tens of millions of pigs have either died from it or been culled since 2018. But it is increasingly wreaking havoc in Southeast Asia after jumping to the region from its northern neighbor.

Since July 2020, tens, or perhaps hundreds, of thousands of pigs in East Nusa Tenggara are said to have died from ASF. The disease seemed to have disappeared from the region in late 2020, before returning in 2021.

Flores, famous for its Komodo dragons, is one of the islands that has been hard hit. Simon Nani, the head of the livestock department in East Flores district, said in mid-March that ASF had killed 35,000 pigs there, up to 40% of the population. His counterpart in nearby Nagekeo district, Klementina Dawo, said her office had recorded 6,048 deaths from the disease. Albert Moang, from the agricultural office in Sikka, another Flores district, said 11,919 pigs there had died since February 2020.

Atong Gomez, a pig farmer in Sikka, said that when the virus began to spread, he sold nearly half of his pigs at a low price. “I panicked,” he told Mongabay, adding, “I cleaned their pen twice a day, sprayed disinfectant and fumigated the pen so that flies” — thought to be one vector of the disease — “wouldn’t come.”

Atong Gomez disinfects his pig pen in Talibura village, Sikka district.

Carolus Winfridus Keupung, the director of Wahana Tani Mandiri, a local nonprofit that works with farmers and fishers, said he believes the death toll is far higher because many pig farmers weren’t reporting the deaths of their animals to authorities. The government, he added, needed to more to prevent the virus from spreading further.

“There must be real action to restrict trade,” he said. “Pigs are dying everywhere, and the community is suffering great losses … If a pig costs 3 million rupiah [$207], tens of billions of rupiah of income are being lost. The government is talking about the Food Estate” — a central government plan to establish large-scale plantations in several provinces — “but people’s food security has been destroyed.”

This story was first reported by Mongabay’s Indonesia team and published here on our Indonesia site on March 22, 2021.

Banner: Baby pigs in Cameroon. Image courtesy of IAEA Imagebank/Flickr

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