Local breed sow and piglets on a farm in Masaka district, Uganda

Local breed sow and piglets on a farm in Masaka district, Uganda. A new research report assesses the risk of Ebola in the pig value chain in Uganda. (photo credit: ILRI/Eliza Smith).

Scientists from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) have published a report of a risk assessment to determine the threat of the deadly Ebola virus in the pig value chain in Uganda.

Uganda is currently witnessing a rise in demand for pork and this has led to increased pig production in the country, mostly under smallholder production systems.

These higher pig populations raised under free-range or tethering systems may create overlap of fruit bat habitats where the pigs scavenge for food, thereby presenting a possible risk of Ebola transmission as some bat species have been identified as reservoir hosts of the Ebola virus.

Uganda has experienced outbreaks of Ebola virus disease in the past. However, there are still many unanswered questions on the ecology and mode of transmission of the Ebola virus.

The risk assessment study, based on a systematic review of literature, identified possible routes of transmission of the Ebola virus if pigs are involved, for example, spread between wild and domestic pigs, direct contact between infected pigs and humans, and contact between pigs and fruit bats.

The study recommends more research on the possible role of pigs in Ebolavirus transmission, an area that is not well understood at the moment.

“The present data suggest that pigs may act as amplifying hosts, but likely not reservoir hosts. This suggests the conditions under which pigs become infected with Ebolavirus and the role they play in transmission may have many variables that will have to be elucidated,” the report states.

Further research is underway to investigate the possible role of domestic pigs in the ecology of Ebola virus in Uganda and understand the public health significance of the virus to the pig value chain in this country.

The work includes laboratory diagnostics from a large sample of blood from domestic pigs collected as part of the initial wider value chain disease assessment.

This will be accompanied by a risk mapping study using spatial epidemiology and key informant surveys as well as some participatory techniques with key stakeholders to better understand risk factors and to serve as a ‘ground-truthing’ exercise for the risk map.

It is hoped that this research will lead to further collaborations with other public health organizations and serve as a potential predictive tool in the event of future outbreaks of Ebola in Uganda.

Access the research report here

Atherstone C, Roesel K and Grace D. 2014. Ebola risk assessment in the pig value chain in Uganda. ILRI Research Report 34. Nairobi, Kenya: ILRI.

Joseph Erume, a researcher at Makerere University, has been awarded a three-month cooperation visit to the Friedrich Loeffler Institute (FLI) in Jena, Germany starting June 2014.

Through this visit, he will continue his research work on seroprevalence and molecular characterization of Brucella suis in pigs in central Uganda which he started under the Safe Food, Fair Food and Smallholder Pig Value Chains Development projects.

Erume’s academic background in microbiology and swine health placed him in an excellent position to contribute to these projects during his research fellowship at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

His work was supported by the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH) through an in-region postdoctoral fellowship by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).

The cooperation visit will also provide the opportunity to discuss research collaboration with German scientists, possibly including some preliminary experiments, with the ultimate goal of developing longer-term collaboration through other DFG programs.

The cooperation visit program of The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) and the German Research Foundation (DFG) provides postdoctoral researchers from sub-Saharan Africa (excluding South Africa) with the opportunity to make a three-month cooperation visit to a research institute in Germany.

We congratulate Erume on the successful application for this prestigious award and the placement at FLI Institute of Bacterial Infections and Zoonoses which also hosts the World Organization for Animal Health and national reference laboratory for porcine brucellosis.

Erume’s application was supported by ILRI scientists Danilo PezoDelia GraceFred Unger and Kristina Roesel.

ILRI joint appointee scientist Natalie Carter and the son of a smallholder pig farmer in Uganda

ILRI joint appointee scientist Natalie Carter and the son of a smallholder pig farmer in Uganda (photo credit: ILRI/Natalie Carter).

We are pleased to congratulate Natalie Carter, a PhD student at the University of Guelph and joint appointee at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), who has been awarded the 2014 Queen’s University Marty Memorial Scholarship.

She beat 30 highly competitive candidates to win the scholarship that was awarded in recognition of her exemplary research on gender and global development.

In 2013, Carter joined an ILRI-led project on smallholder pig value chains development in Uganda. Her research is focused on appropriate feed options for smallholder pig farmers in Uganda, many of whom are women.

“I am really excited about the scholarship as it will help pay for my university tuition,” said Carter.

“It will also enable me to attend a summer training workshop of the Canadian community of practice in ecosystem approaches to health. The workshop will provide valuable training that I will apply in my research”.

The Marty Memorial Scholarship was established in memory of Dr Aletta Marty and her sister Sophie Marty, a distinguished graduate of Queen’s University. It is awarded annually by the Queen’s University Alumni Association to a woman graduate of Queen’s University for one year of study and research.

Pig production is an important livelihood activity for some 1 million smallholder households in Uganda, given the growing demand for pork in both rural and urban areas.

However, many smallholder pig farmers are constrained by lack of adequate information on animal health, feeding and breeding that can help them improve their pig husbandry and scale up their operations towards commercialized production and greater profits.

Pig Production and Marketing Uganda Limited works with pig farmers – from smallholder to large-scale – to increase productivity and create a reliable market for pig farm produce. The organization also offers technical support to pig farmers in Uganda.

As part of its efforts towards improving pig husbandry in Uganda, the organization held a training workshop on 14-15 February 2014 in Matugga, Wakiso District for some 70 farmers.

The aim of the workshop was to share knowledge on modern pig farming methods and good agricultural practices in pig husbandry. Other topics included feeding, breeding, pig health, management of pig diseases, farm management and record keeping.

Scientists from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) were invited to participate in the workshop as part of the team of facilitators.

Danilo Pezo, coordinator an ILRI project on smallholder pig value chain development in Uganda, gave the opening address. Kristina Roesel, coordinator of the ILRI-led Safe Food, Fair Food project, facilitated a session on pig and pork zoonoses in Uganda.


The event received media coverage in the Daily Monitor newspaper (Piggery: Farmers urged on best practices, 19 Feb 2014)

Related blog post: Ugandans and pork: A story that needs telling (ILRI News blog, 19 Feb 2014)

Feeding pigs in Nagaland

A woman feeds her pigs in Nagaland, India (photo credit: ILRI/Stevie Mann).

The first risk-based study of food safety in the pork value chain in Nagaland, Northeast India has identified several important microbiological hazards and assessed their impacts on human health.

Nagaland has the highest density of pigs in India and the highest pork consumption levels. Therefore, information on pathogens in pigs and pork in the region, and their health impacts, is useful for decision-making on interventions aimed at improving food safety and safeguarding the health of consumers.

The study investigated samples from pigs and pork sourced at slaughter in urban and rural environments, and at retail, to assess a selection of food-borne hazards. In addition, consumer exposure was characterized using information about hygiene and practices related to handling and preparing pork.

The food-borne pathogens identified include Listeria spp. and Brucella suis. A risk assessment framework assessed the health impacts of three representative hazards or hazards proxies, namely, Enterobacteriaceae, Taenia solium cysticercosis and antibiotic residues.

The study found that by using participatory methods and rapid diagnostics alongside conventional methods, risk assessment can be used in a resource-scarce setting.

The findings are published in a special issue on food safety and public health in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

View the article

Fahrion AS, Jamir L, Richa K, Begum S, Rutsa V, Ao S, Padmakumar VP, Deka RP and Grace D. 2014. Food-safety hazards in the pork chain in Nagaland, North East India: Implications for human health. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 11(1): 403-417.

A poster based on research led by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) towards improving productivity and food safety in smallholder pig value chains in Uganda won the Best Poster award at the Africa 2013 EcoHealth Conference held in Côte d’Ivoire on 1-5 October 2013.

The poster, Assessment of knowledge, attitudes and practices on pork safety among smallholder pig farmers in Uganda, was prepared by Kristina Roesel, a PhD student at Freie Universität Berlin and coordinator of the ILRI-led Safe Food, Fair Food project.

The study was carried out by the Safe Food, Fair Food project in collaboration with the Smallholder Pig Value Chains Development in Uganda project.


Sinh Dang Xuan defends his Master of Veterinary Public Health thesis at Chiang Mai University, Thailand

Sinh Dang Xuan defends his Master of Veterinary Public Health thesis at the Chiang Mai University, Thailand. His research study was co-funded by the ILRI-led project “Ecosystem approaches to the better management of zoonotic emerging infectious diseases in Southeast Asia” (photo credit: ILRI/Fred Unger).

Congratulations are due to Sinh Dang Xuan on the successful defence of his Master of Veterinary Public Health thesis on 9 September 2013 at the Veterinary Public Health Centre for Asia Pacific, Chiang Mai University in Thailand. The course is a joint program of Freie Universität Berlin and Chiang Mai University.

His research study on quantifying Salmonella spp. in pig slaughterhouses and pork markets associated with human health in Hung Yen, Vietnam was co-funded by a project led by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) on ecohealth approaches to managing zoonoses in Southeast Asia.

It is one of the first studies carried out in Vietnam combining quantitative and qualitative research methods on ecohealth approaches to food safety in pork value chains.

View the presentation

Fish market, Cairo, Egypt.

Fish on sale at a market in Cairo, Egypt (photo credit: WorldFish/Samuel Stacey).

A comprehensive toolkit developed by the Safe Food, Fair Food project is being used by WorldFish, a member of the CGIAR Consortium, to assess food safety in the farmed tilapia value chain in Egypt.

WorldFish is using the toolkit in a collaborative project on Rapid Integrated Assessment of Food Safety and Nutrition in Value Chains to better understand the dual demands of safety and nutrition in food value chains, in particular the farmed tilapia value chain.

Through the combined use of participatory methods of data collection (e.g. focus group discussions and direct observation) and collection of biological samples, the toolkit provides a thorough framework for assessing the entire food value chain.

It takes into account economic, social and cultural factors that influence food affordability and acceptability, as well as how the attitudes of value chain actors can contribute to risky food practices.

The toolkit has also been used to assess the milk value chain in Tanzania, small ruminant value chain in Ethiopia and pig value chains in Uganda and Vietnam.

For more information about the toolkit, please contact the Safe Food, Fair Food project coordinator Kristina Roesel (k.roesel @ cgiar.org)

Typical mixed crop-livestock farming of western Kenya

Typical mixed crop-livestock farming of western Kenya. Many smallholder farmers in western Kenya are taking advantage of the growing demand for pork to keep free-ranging pigs as a commercial enterprise (photo credit: ILRI/Pye-Smith).

Many people are familiar with the use of global positioning system (GPS) technology as a security measure to track the movement of vehicles, mobile phones and sophisticated high-tech gadgets and assets.

But researchers at the University of Edinburgh and the International Livestock Research Institute are using GPS technology to track the movement of a different kind of asset that, though not motorized or electronic, is nonetheless of great value to resource-poor farmers in rural western Kenya: free-ranging domestic pigs.

In western Kenya, as in many parts of the developing world, rural households keep pigs under extensive, low-input systems where the animals are left free to roam and scavenge food outside the homestead.

Such low capital investment production systems enable smallholder farmers to benefit from pig production by taking advantage of the growing demand for pork, especially in urban areas.

It is well known that irrespective of the production system under which they are kept, pigs can be the host of a variety of disease-causing microorganisms.

However, pigs that are left to roam freely and scavenge food have a much higher risk of picking up diseases and infections like the pork tapeworm and African swine fever and passing them on to other domestic and wild animals as well as to people.

Understanding the movement patterns of free-ranging pigs in a rural setting can help animal health researchers develop effective disease control policies for smallholder pig production systems, based on a better understanding of the patterns of disease transmission within populations of free range pigs.

The results of a year-long pig tracking study carried out in Busia, western Kenya between March 2011 and February 2012 are now available in the March 2013 issue of the open access journal BMC Veterinary Research.

The pigs were fitted with GPS collars that tracked their movements and recorded their location coordinates every 3 minutes for one week. The location data were then transmitted to a central GPS server for analysis. Blood samples were also collected from the pigs to check for infection with gastrointestinal parasites.

“This is the first study to use GPS technology to collect data on the home range of domestic pigs kept under a free range system and the data will give us new insights into the behaviour of free-ranging pigs in a resource-poor setting,” the authors say.

The study found that the free-ranging pigs spent almost half their time outside their homestead of origin, travelling an average of 4,340 metres in a 12 hour period.

This result shows that with respect to pathogen transmission, the village environment beyond the farm matters just as much as the environment on the farm itself.

In addition, the researchers found that free range domestic pigs spend a lot of energy while foraging and this reduced their potential for weight gain and economic benefit to their owners.

This is because the sale price is normally pegged on the live weight of the pigs: a heavier pig translates into more cash for the farmer.

“The movement data can also be combined with information on ration formulation and daily weight gain to provide farmers with advice on how to change their animal husbandry practices to improve the profitability of pig production,” the authors conclude.

Read the abstract here

Citation: Thomas LF, de Glanville WA, Cook EA and Fèvre EM. 2013. The spatial ecology of free-ranging domestic pigs (Sus scrofa) in western Kenya. BMC Veterinary Research 9: 46. doi:10.1186/1746-6148-9-46

Find out more about the Zoonotic and Emerging Diseases Research Group which is led by co-author Eric Fèvre.