Venezuela made headlines recently when the era of president Hugo Chávez came to an end. In the last 14 years, the country’s pig industry developed – but many more challenges need to be faced. What does swine production look like in Venezuela in 2013?
Venezuela has a population of around 30 million inhabitants, with two clearly defined seasons (summer and winter) and with an average annual temperature of 26ºC but with ranges of up to 36ºC degrees in some regions. A crucible of paradoxes is what defines pig production in Venezuela.
The country’s economy has been fighting with inflation averaging above 20% annually over the past five years and there is a general dependence on more than 70% of foreign products and raw materials. In addition, there is a rigorous exchange rate control. Nevertheless, pig producers in Venezuela have been able to overcome these obstacles and to continue the production at profitable margins. Not only have they been able to maintain, but in many cases were able to grow under these rather restricted economic circumstances.
Unofficial statistics estimate that this country has more than 153,000 sows and a production of about 2.9 million pigs in 2012. Although there are differences in the various production systems that exist in this country, it is estimated that the average farrowing rate is about 78%, with an average of 9.94 born alive piglets and 8.91 weaned pigs per litter, well below figures for standards in countries like Brazil, the Netherlands or Denmark. Production figures of only the high-tech companies and facilities are comparable however – think of e.g. Grupo La Caridad, Procer-Afis and Aguarren, where they get more than 24 piglets/ sow/ year, and a farrowing rate of 90% or more. Figure 2 shows the distribution of production in the various pig producer states. Traditionally the state of Aragua and Carabobo have been the two main producing states in the country, but in recent years there has been a growth in three other states that previously had low production. Due to urban growth and local state policies supporting this area, currently Guárico, Yaracuy and Zulia have emerged as the fastest growing areas in number of pigs and number of farms.
The differences in the various types of pig production are remarkable. There are still farms where pigs are reared on very simple rudimentary facilities with ground floors or solid concrete, which contrast with those facilities in the production complex mentioned above where use of extreme security measures, the application of temperature control systems, automatic feeding and floor slats are a constant. Like in North America, most of Venezuela’s production is in the hands of a few companies. The seven largest producers therefore concentrate on 41% of the sow and pig inventories, see Figure 3 . Despite the high cost of imported raw materials, the continued rise of medicine and vaccine prices including feed, producer profit margins have remained above production costs. This was made possible by constant increases in pork prices, which have seen a steady increase since 2010, placing Venezuela as the country with the highest price per kg of pork, which is currently trading at a price between US$3.23 and US$3.50 per kg of live pig. Not surprisingly, consumption of the Venezuelan population is mostly tilted towards chicken (36 kg per capita), then beef (15-18 kg) and finally pork (8-9 kg).
Nevertheless, there has been a slight increase in pork consumption in Venezuela in the last ten years. As from 2003, the socialist government installed in most of the country staterun markets, called ‘Mercados de Alimentos’ – in short ‘Mercal’. These have been providing subsidised food and basic goods – in 2010 there were over 16,000 outlets nationwide from small to large. In addition, the government initiated policies of indirect subsidies through social programmes called ‘misiones’, giving extra income to people who pursue in these missions. Another important aspect is the tendency in medium and large producers (400-1,000 sows) to produce the feed on farm. A large number of pig producers in Venezuela had or are producing their own food for each of the production stages, no including the prestarter feed.
Although there is no precise figure on the number of tonnes that are produced at these farms, it is known that it is increasing, since this is one of the ways to keep producing and to avoid or reduce the effects of external factors increasing, since this is one of the ways to keep producing and to avoid or reduce the effects of external factors such as those mentioned at the beginning.
Regarding health problems that swine herds are facing in Venezuela, it should be stressed that although there has been a Classical Swine Fever (CSF) eradication programme since 2003, progress in eradicating has been very poor due to lack of commitment from the producers and little government support in logistics, personnel for the diagnosis, monitoring and control in
every stage of the eradication programme. Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD) is another disease that has been subject to a management plan of eradication but with similar results to those of CSF. Therefore, Venezuela remains a country with limitations to the foreign market as this prevents the opening to abroad markets for pork products. Besides these two diseases, Aujeszky’s
disease (AD) – also known as pseudorabies – PRRS, Porcine Circovirus (PCV2) and swine influenza are present in Venezuela’s swine herds. For AD there has been no control or eradication plan, nevertheless the government has authorised vaccination against the disease since the late 1980s, and nowadays there is an intensive use of modified live virus vaccines for which the
prevalence of the disease is relatively low. The government has not declared free zones or states for this disease. PRRS and PCV2 vaccines are being marketed to control these two diseases, obtaining very good results with PCV2 killed virus vaccines. Results are unknown with PRRS vaccination because there is little use of this vaccine in the country. Swine influenza has been detected by serology in several pig farms but it has not had much impact on production even when some herds are positive for the disease. The probable reason for this statement is possibly related to the fact that the country has high temperatures the whole year and this limits the transmission of the virus between farms.
As indicated, diversity is one of the characteristics of pig production in Venezuela. Producers will continue to strive to achieve good yields and they expect new government policies to improve the efficiency of herds with precise control and eradication programmes to enable producers to opening foreign markets for pigs. Pork producers are looking to the future for further improvements.
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