Since the first report of the African Swine Fever (ASF) outbreak at Grihang village in Kamjong, Manipur in the first week of June this year and subsequent detection of the infection in other districts, pork vendors in various parts of Imphal valley have been forced to shut down as the outbreak hit both the supply and demand of the meat.
While humans are safe from the infection, containment measures and reluctance shown by the public towards consumption of infected pork are factors contributing to making the once thriving business for many loss-making.
Out of around 10 pork butcher shops in Keishamthong, only three were open when this reporter visited several pork vending spaces on Wednesday. Most of the shops in other places like Mahabali, New Checkon and Heirangoithong among others were also found closed.
One Abung Huidrom, who has been selling pork at Keishamthong for around 20 years, said that the demand for pork witnessed a steep decline in a month’s time.
He told the Imphal Free Press, “Earlier, our shop used to sell 50-60 kg of pork a day. Now, it is becoming hard to sell even 20 kg. We are only opening our shop so that we do not lose contact with our regular customers, who run shops offering meals and varieties of cooked meat.”
While the price of pork for retail sale was Rs 380 per kg before the outbreak, he said that they are now selling the pork for even Rs 350 per kg.
He further said that the death of pigs in summer is not unusual. Even though we select fresh and healthy meat from the wholesalers, yet people are reluctant to consume pork due to the ASF outbreak.
Even the popular names like Yumlembam Chaoba, popularly known as ‘Oak Chaoba’ for the delicious pork curry he sells at Thangapat, is now struggling to make the business profitable.
Chaoba, who has been selling pork curry for almost 40 years, calls the entire episode of ASF as simply "bad luck".
“We have been there before and cannot do anything for now. Customers thronged the place especially in the evening and 20 kgs of pork were sold out most days before the ASF outbreak. Now, we find it hard to even sell 10 kg,” he said.
Dharmendra Amakcham, who runs a shop offering meals, said that majority of his customers, mostly drivers, who used to consume pork, are now preferring chicken or duck curry.
While the pork businesses are struggling, the development has proven to be a boon for those selling chickens. Dharmendra said that recently, the price of chicken even rose to Rs 350 per kg though it has now come down to Rs 250 per kg.
Meanwhile, according to official reports, the start of the ASF outbreak this year is traced to April 17 when the pigs reared at the Grihang Farm started dying.
In an interaction with the Imphal Free Press, Veterinary and Animal Husbandry Services Director, Ng Ibotombi, said that presently, four epicentres of the disease, namely Grihang in Kamjong, Hiyanglam in Kakching, Leimaram in Bishnupur and Sekmai in Imphal West have been identified and containment measures have been put into force.
Besides, inter-district movement of pigs and pork products has been prohibited and awareness campaigns using loudspeakers are underway, he said, highlighting the measures taken by the government to curb the spread.
Further saying that awareness among those involved in the pork business is key, he appealed to the farmers not to hide when the pigs started showing symptoms of the infection.
While the government will eventually cull the animals within one kilometre radius from the epicentre and perform biosafety burial and disinfection, the farmers will be compensated according to prescribed guidelines, he added.
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