Exploring measures to curb the spread of African swine fever in northeast India

Experts in India met in a recent regional workshop to design a comprehensive African swine fever (ASF) management plan in response to the negative impacts of the disease on the livelihoods of millions of farmers in the northeast of the country.

Held on 8 July in Assam, the workshop was co-hosted by the Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Department (AHVD); the Assam Rural Infrastructure and Agricultural Services (ARIAS) Society; the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI); the Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying (DAHD) and the Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying (MoFAHD) in India.

African swine fever is an infectious disease of domestic and wild pigs, which has unprecedently spread in recent years, seriously impacting Asia. In India, the disease was first reported in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh in April 2020. It later spread to the northeastern states of Nagaland, Meghalaya and Mizoram causing the death of many pigs and loss of livelihoods for millions of pig farmers in the region.

Shri Atul Bora, Minister for Agriculture and Animal Husbandry, Govt. of Assam (second left) addressing the participants of ASF workshop (photo credit: ILRI South Asia).

Smt. Indira R. Kalita, ACS, director, Assam AHVD urged the stakeholders at the workshop to work together to frame an effective ASF management plan. Bidyut Chandan Deka, vice chancellor of the Assam Agricultural University (AAU) said strengthening biosecurity measures, vaccine research and the diagnostic capacity in laboratories would help control and manage the spread of the disease.

Daniel Alcrudo, animal health officer, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) shared the global context of ASF and the challenges faced by countries in confronting it. He insisted that the close coordination between the national and state governments, a common policy approach among the states and support from the communities are critical to successful ASF management.

Dieter Schillinger, deputy director general of ILRI, shared lessons from ILRI’s ongoing research on an African swine fever virus (ASFV) vaccine using CRISPR-Cas technology and the status of the attenuated ASFV vaccine which is being tested in Vietnam. Praveen Malik, Animal Husbandry Commissioner, DAHD, emphasized the need for field testing of the ASFV vaccines and its commercial production in India.

Participants from the northeastern states discussed the current situation of ASF in the region, difficulties in controlling the disease, and gave recommendations for better managing ASF. Some key recommendations included improving diagnosis and surveillance, culling animals on infected farms followed by cleaning and disinfection, tightening biosecurity measures, raising farmers’ awareness, developing capacity for field veterinarians and commercial pig breeders on biosecurity, ASF management activities and good animal husbandry practice, issuing movement restrictions, sanctioning trade in pigs and pork products, and boosting vaccine research and development. A later session discussed ASF control planning and related policy needs.

Group photo of meeting participants with Shri Atul Bora, Minister for Agriculture and Animal Husbandry, Govt. of Assam (middle with scarf) (photo credit: ILRI South Asia).

In the plenary discussion, Praveen Malik, Animal Husbandry Commissioner, DAHD, Government of India, called for streamlining of sample collection and disease reporting procedures, strengthening coordination among state agencies and enhancing the capacity of diagnostic laboratories.

In the closing remarks, Bhupendra Nath Tripathi, director general (animal science) at the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) urged the Assam Ministry for Animal Husbandry & Veterinary Services to work with ministries in other northeastern states in a joint effort to contain ASF.

Shri Atul Bora, minister for Agriculture, Horticulture, Animal Husbandry and Veterinary in Assam, urged the national government to allocate additional funds to compensate farmers who had lost their animals.

The workshop was attended by 60 livestock and animal health experts including officials from Nagaland, Meghalaya and Mizoram and representatives from DAHD, ICAR, AAU, ILRI, FAO and the World Bank. Habibar Rahman, ILRI regional representative for South Asia, and Ram Deka, a scientist at ILRI, participated in the workshop.

(The post was written by Kennady Vijayalakshmy, research and communications officer with ILRI in South Asia, with additional editing by Chi Nguyen and Paul Karaimu, communications officer, ILRI).