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Emma Naluyima: In praise of pigs

02 March 2016

Emma Naluyima - Smallholder farmer and veterinarian:

I wake up every morning at 4 a.m. to hold a board meeting with my pigs. They say to me, if you take care of us we shall take care of you all the way to the barn. This I do diligently and I pass on the same message to the rest of my community and thousands of farmers around Uganda, who struggle to make a living from the small pieces of land that they own. My farm encompasses the heart and the concept of utilizing small pieces of land to make maximum use and gain income. This I do by curbing erosion and sustainably looking after the environment. At the heart and success of this farm is my favourite animal, the pig. A pig can actually have qualities to get someone out of poverty if properly looked after. Number one, they are very prolifetive, fast growing, let alone being delicious. At the same time, if comparing them to the rest of the livestock, they need very little space for production. Take, for example, cattle – did you know that to produce milk a cow needs 1 acre of land in two years to produce milk while a pig needs only a maximum of 9m2 to produce 30 piglets in the same time. Let alone, this pig has a high carcass yield, 70 per cent. If you compare it to cow, it needs 50-55 per cent. Its meat is not only delicious but tender and has high curing abilities to make processed products for value addition. And the products are not only processed meat but also making brushes from the hair, soap and lard from the fat, buttons from the hoofs and leather from the skin.

Before I embarked on piggery farming, I worked as a vet and in my region I noticed that there was a lot of inbreeding and farmers were not getting what they should get because of the inbreeding. So I decided that I wanted to keep pigs and I needed good genetics, but alas, there were no good genetics in the country. The nearest was in South Africa. My husband and I sold a truck that used to earn us $100 a week to purchase a pig worth $4,000 from South Africa. Everybody laughed at us when they saw that we were selling a truck for a pig. I remember the bank manager raising her eyebrows when I told her the reason as to why I was wiring the money to South Africa.

But anyway, one year down the road, I earned $12,000 from piglets that had been sired by this one board. I used this money to expand my farm from 12 sows to 30 sows. To date, I produce 600-720 piglets a year. I sell each piglet for $100, so I earn $60,000 from just a quarter an acre of land.

This money I used to pay for my Masters tuition, which was worth $4,000 a semester, for two years. Now, I can afford a comfortable home, look after my children and also take them to school. I have not seen an animal as wonderful as a pig in this world. I am what I am because of pigs and my passion for pigs has earned me a name, Mama Pig.

I spend part of my time teaching smallholder farmers how to maximize yields and use the little space they have because many times we think because we have little space, we cannot work, we cannot produce, but we can. So I teach them how to make money out of the small pieces they have and it is not how much land you have but you utilize this piece of land.

My farm has become a demonstration farm for many people, the youth, children, women, name it, teaching people how to do different types of farming, crop and livestock. I was surprised one day when I received a call from someone in Tanzania who wanted to enrol in a programme I offered, a one week's programme on piggery management. One of the farmers I have taught is a lady, an old lady, called Nakanwa Jezazeri from Matuga, an area in Uganda. This lady received three piglets from a Government initiative to look after for old people because she is old. Now, right now, she earns $200 in two months. It may seem little but she can afford to live on $4 a day compared to the uncertainty of living on less than $1 a day, that she had before. She can buy medicines; look after herself without being a burden to her children; once in a while look after her grandchildren when they come to visit her, all the joy of receiving a present from your grandmother.

Another lady called Nabanja, a widow, may her soul rest in peace, kept pigs when her husband died. She was able to take her six children through school up to university, look after her home and pay for my expensive vet services.

I not only teach farmers how to look after their pigs but I also teach them how to utilize the dung that comes from the pigs. This I call green gold because many times we buy pesticides, fertilizers to look after our crops, to spread on our costs. They are not only costly, they are detrimental to our health and then in the rural areas these products are of poor quality. Imagine someone using humdinger servings to buy products that do not work. This is what I do. I teach them how to make pesticides from pig dung by using earth worms, a technology called vermiculture. Now, they only save money, but their crops are organic so they can actually sell them expensively if they so wish and then in Uganda and the rest of the country, many people in the rural areas use firewood to cook. If it rains and they have not fetched firewood the previous day, they will go hungry even when they have food in their granaries. Reason being, they do not have firewood. Yet, at the back of their houses, they have piles and piles of dung, so I teach them how to make energy, biogas, from this dung. This, again, helps them cook and also saves them from the detrimental carbon fumes that come from firewood and the soot. I also teach them, they can also have light if they still have biogas so they stop sleeping in darkness. The slurry that comes from the dung or the biogas goes back to the garden so they do not have to buy fertilizers. This is very interesting.

So farming, or pig farming, is not only important for the pig farmer but to the environment and the world at large. This is because, again in Uganda and most African countries, every household uses charcoal to cook. What does it mean? Cutting down trees. Cutting down trees brings drought and no rain, but if we use the biogas or the dung from animals to cook, then we will not cut down trees. What happens then? You have rain and then we shall have developed the environment, made it better.

In 2014 there was a best farmer's competition where I emerged as the fourth in the country. People are inspired by my story. The young and the old, who thought a pig farming and farming generally was dirty and was not payable, started farming because they know they can make it.

I belong to a pig farmers' association where 90 per cent of these people are less than 40 years old, so what does it mean that we will not worry about the facing ages of the farmer because the average age of a farmer in Uganda is 55 years old.

My husband and I are starting a school. It will actually start next year if God wills. We are building a school that is going to teach sons and daughters of African farmers. There are three things that Africans are failing to teach their children: time management, the value of money and the culture of saving through farming, because we believe that farming is the greatest time keeper. In this generation children think milk, poultry, vegetables and fruit grow in refrigerators, so we need to teach these children at a tender age. Catholics have a saying that, if you give me your child at age ten and he will die a Catholic. Same to us, if we teach these children at a tender age, they know that farming is not dirty but is a business, then Uganda and the world will be a better place.