Pig farming is one of the fastest growing livestock activities in Uganda and is a means of increasing food, income and employment. Uganda is among the largest per capita consumers of pork in sub-Saharan Africa. Still, productivity is low and demand outstrips supply. Industry, research, and local government are coming together in collaborative initiatives like ‘PigBoost’, striving towards a step change in the productivity to meet this demand.

PigBoost, a developmental project funded through the UK Government’s Global Challenges Research Fund, is working with local communities of peri-urban farmers to use data-driven decisions to improve Uganda’s pig production, health, and welfare in a sustainable way. The dual aims of the project are to provide economic stability for pig farmers and health and welfare for farming families in Uganda, while ultimately addressing broader food production and food safety issues in the supply chain to deliver nutritious, healthy and safe food. By focusing on peri-urban areas and exploring sustainable intensification of pig production, the project has the potential to have a positive social impact on wider Ugandan society.

A pig is an asset for local farming families. On average, these households will have three sows (mother pigs). They will raise ten or twelve pigs per year per sow. Money from their sale support a family’s livelihood to pay for school fees, health support and improvement in housing. For a Ugandan small holder pig rearing is very important. Normally in the village, one or two people may own a boar (a male pig which can breed) and will run the animal around households to service with sows. The owner will charge per mate or per sow. The problem is that these boars do not necessarily have qualities that can improve the genetic make-up of their progeny. There is also a risk of diseases been transmitted through boars visiting different households.

Datamars is working with genetics specialists AbacusBio on PigBoost to increase the productivity of pig smallholders in communities across Uganda’s capital city of Kampala. Datamars supplies Tagfaster RFID tags, electronic readers and visual tags and weigh scale indicators to capture and manage data from the day of the pig’s birth, to allow accurate recording of breeding, production, and disease data. The information is being managed through Dtreo, a data platform developed by AbacusBio and will be used to benchmark individual farm performance and provide feedback to farmers.

Phase one of the PigBoost project began in 2020, capturing data and recording disease events and individual animal performance and history from approximately 3,300 pigs. This supports the implementation of a genetic improvement programme supported by artificial insemination, collection of performance records, and analytics to improve local pigs with higher-genetic merit.

Jeroen Bolscher, Datamars International Sales Manager Livestock Management Services says the Datamars technologies work in conjunction with the AbacusBio and VetLine Services’ technologies to help Ugandan farmers make better data-driven decisions.

“These farmers can monitor and improve their pig rearing practices, then use the information gathered to select sows and gilts for replacement and to improve their lives. Pigs which are the most fertile and have the highest growth rates can be targeted for breeding, while animals with potential diseases can be identified, isolated, and where needed, treated.”

AbacusBio’s Bruno Santos, a specialist in development and implementation of genetic improvement programmes as well as sustainable farming systems and supply chain structures, says this project connects artificial insemination with performance and bridges the gap between farmers, veterinarians, and extension service providers.

“We need quality information to do all that matching.”

“A big challenge is helping the farmers to understand the data and use the technology to help make better decisions. To benefit even more from the artificial insemination technology, farmers need to know which are their most productive animals, what the best boar semen is to use, which is more resistant to disease, that will survive better, and whose daughters will produce more piglets – things like this. It is merging genetic improvement principles with pig farm on-farm management practices.”

PigBoost is poised for the next stage of tagging, introducing more pigs to the project, adding their data, and expanding the database.

The PigBoost project is supported by a collaboration of world-leading and local organisations and led by genetics specialists AbacusBio and the Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh, along with Ugandan-based organisations, Vetline Services, the leading company in artificial insemination in Uganda, and Makerere University, with support from the Kampala City Council (animal production division), Ministry of Agriculture, and the National Animal Genetic Resource.