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News 707 views last update:Jul 14, 2008

Australian research helps Laos pig farmers

The traditional farming system in the mountainous regions of Laos includes owning several pigs as a living "piggy bank", a method of building capital for people who have little money or access to other methods of saving or credit.

Scavengers
The pigs are basically scavengers, whose diet is supplemented with leaves and forest products generally collected by wives and children. But as human populations and their pigs increase, the neighbouring forests are overexploited, resulting in the families spending many hours daily in search of pig foods. Three main pig feeding systems existed; wholly scavenging, semi-confined when pigs were kept in pens during the planting season, and pen-reared.

A typical family in this region normally keeps four or five sows and sells the piglets. Those they cannot sell are fattened in pens until ready for sale at about 60 kg. Under this traditional system the family spends several hours daily collecting palatable green plants, while their sows scavenge for food. The green leaves and herbs are cooked with rice bran, cassava and maize to provide a nightly feed, and pigs usually require 10 months to reach the saleable 60kg.

Research
Research by a team from Australia's International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (ICTA) to promote high-protein legumes and grasses for livestock provided an unexpected bonus to village pig farmers. Researches determined that protein rich Stylo 184 (Stylosanthes guianensis), grows well in the poor mountainous soil and can be fed directly to pigs without being cooked. More importantly is available early in the wet season when little rice bran, maize and cassava is available.

The team identified the main problems as being the slow growth rate and high mortality from disease of pigs, and the long periods collecting and preparing feeds.

Analyses of traditional material also showed that while some local greens are quite high quality and provide protein for pig growth, the amount available is generally inadequate to produce good growth rates.

Feed supplement
Last year a group of farmers began growing Stylo 184 as a feed supplement, and pigs fed small amounts of fresh Stylo daily reached the desired 60kg in about six months. Added benefits were scarce forest resources were conserved and women spent less than half an hour collecting the stylo leaves grown nearby, allowing more time to work their upland rice fields. Pigs fed the traditional feeds had a growth rate of about 100 g/day, but after adding Stylo, gained 200 to 250 g daily for virtually no extra cost.

Subsequently farmers began to pen their pigs, as the readily available source of green feed made scavenging an uneconomic method of pig rearing since a large amount of energy is used to find food. With the great reduction in time necessary to provide green feed, villagers were able to keep more pigs, with one family rearing 14 animals and providing over half its total income.

Researchers stated that in almost all households the women often spent at least two hours daily collecting green feed, whereas after planting Stylo they spent only 15 to 30 minutes a day cutting and chopping it to directly feed their pigs. This labour-saving was a major reason for quick and widespread adoption of Stylo 184.

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