- Category: Opinion
- Published on Friday, 13 July 2012 08:17
- Written by Paul Lake Piggery Advisory Council Chair
- Hits: 652
Pohnpeians are well aware that pigs are very important. Traditionally, pigs play an important role in tributes to the Kings of municipalities and Chiefs of villages. Other important occasions also require the presence of pigs, including annual family celebrations or paying respect to loved ones who have passed away. These cultural responsibilities basically require that each family raise pigs and it is the largest of the pigs that are the most prized. This equates to a lot of pigs being raised on Pohnpei, and some very large pigs at that.
Although pigs arrived on Pohnpei with the visiting ships within the last two centuries, their importance cannot be understated. They have been woven into the cultural fabric along with yams and Sakau.
Early on, pigs roamed freely scavenging for food and water. More recently, municipalities instituted regulations that required pig farmers to confine their animals. Raising pigs in pens requires farmers to provide food and water as well as to tend to the daily maintenance of cleaning the pens. The most common method of piggery cleaning is with water. Farmers spray down the pigs and their pens once or twice daily.
It is fortunate that Pohnpei receives abundant rainfall but with thousands of piggeries on Pohnpei, the amount of water used to wash pens daily amounts to millions of gallons of water per year. Every drop of fresh water used to clean pig pens becomes polluted water, which is usually washed onto the ground, directly into fresh water creeks or into the lagoon.
This is the basis for the problem: most piggeries on Pohnpei do not have an associated waste management system. This contaminated water contains nutrients that harm the environment and pathogens that can make people sick, including eColi and Leptospira. The latter causes Leptospirosis, a disease that can lead to internal organ failure and death.
A study was conducted here last year by researcher Susannah Colt. Working with the two hospitals and health clinics, in preliminary results, she determined that approximately 25% of people presenting with flu-like symptoms actually had Leptospirosis. This is an astounding figure.
A study in American Samoa of the population at-large found that 17% of the population have or recently had Leptospirosis and that a certain number of people are dying each year from the disease.
For more than a decade, conservation partners on Pohnpei such as the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Pohnpei State Office of Economic Affairs - Agriculture, College of Micronesia Cooperative Research and Extension and the Cooperative Extension Service, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Conservation Society of Pohnpei, have been promoting an improved wash down system for raising pigs. This system continues to utilize water to wash down pig pens but it captures the solid manure for composting and deposits the liquid waste onto agroforestry crops, like banana, as fertilizer.
In December 2011, the standing committee called the Piggery Advisory Council was formed. Comprised of technical, regulatory, and public health agencies, along with non-governmental organizations and individual farmers, the Piggery Advisory Council formed to conduct educational outreach and facilitate change in piggery management to sustainable systems.
One system being promoted by the Council is the Dry Litter Piggery System. No water is used in the daily maintenance of the piggery and therefore there is no runoff to pollute the land and the water. An integral part of the dry litter piggery is that wood chips are used to absorb the pig waste. The mixture is then composted to make fertilizer for the farm or garden. Heat is formed during the composting process sufficient to kill Leptospira. Because of these benefits, places like American Samoa have widely adopted this system and by the end of the year, there will be 60 dry litter piggeries there.
Very recently, members of the Piggery Advisory Council, working with the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, applied and were awarded a grant from AusAID to fund the dry litter piggery being built at Sei Pepper Farm in Kitti.
The Council’s vision is ‘Pig Farmers are Healthier, Happier, and more Prosperous.’ This vision is worth explaining in more detail. We see Pig Farmers as representing all people living on Pohnpei because of the important role that pigs have here. “Healthier” speaks to the island environment free from excess nutrients in water affecting coral reefs and fisheries, as well as the removal of pathogens that threaten the health of citizens who recreate, bathe, or do their laundry in local rivers. When people can raise pigs sustainably and continue to meet traditional or cultural obligations, they are “Happier”. And finally, by providing information and promoting locally available feeds, genetic material, and technical information, farmers will also be more “Prosperous”.
Piggery Advisory Council members work closely with researchers from the University of Hawaii, especially Glen Fukumoto. Mr. Fukumoto has worked extensively in the Pacific region on these very issues and conducted the Piggery Assessments of Pohnpei, an informative document describing the benchmark condition on Pohnpei and providing ideas for improvement and goals that the Piggery Advisory Council take seriously. He also worked with student researcher, Marta Hura, and the Pohnpei State Environmental Protection Agency to start water quality investigations of rivers on Pohnpei. Her results were startling, finding that some rivers exceed Pohnpei EPA regulations for the presence of pathogens by many times. This means that people can become sick by swimming in some rivers, including famous Pohnpei landmarks like Kepirohi Waterfall. Just as importantly though, Ms. Hura’s study found that not all rivers on Pohnpei are polluted.
With this kind of assistance from outside researchers, the Piggery Advisory Council has been providing information on the impacts of unmanaged pig waste to policy makers, including the Governor and his cabinet members, and members of the Pohnpei State Legislature. A presentation on the matter has been given at COM-FSM’s agriculture class as well.
The Piggery Advisory Council, especially through Cooperative Extension Service Agent Mark Kostka, has been working with a University of Hawaii graduate student, James Harmon, to conduct research on compost production and application on Saimon Mix’s farm in Sokehs. He also managed to acquire a small wood chipper from Sustainable Land Management for use at the farm to support Mr. Mix’s dry litter piggery and compost production.
Further work to support improvement of piggery management is the presence of a NRCS engineer from Utah, Jonathan Bingham. Mr. Bingham is on-island for 10 weeks to provide training in surveying techniques to NRCS staff and partners. This will provide the skills needed to request assistance with designs for new piggeries. He was brought to Pohnpei through the U.S. Embassy’s Embassy Science Fellow Program.
Working closely with the Office of Economic Affairs - Agriculture, the Piggery Advisory Council helped to develop requirements and criteria for the selection of farmers who will receive one of the new biogas systems that the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China is generously building in the next two years.
Finally, we’d like to thank the Embassy of Japan for funding the application submitted by the Piggery Advisory Council for two brand new 38 horse power wood chippers to support dry litter piggery operations.
One of these wood chippers will be housed at the College of Micronesia-FSM campus farm. The farm has long maintained an educational piggery and compost facility. Under the direction of Professor Kiyoshi Phillip, the farm will construct a new dry litter piggery funded by the U.S. Compact of Free Association. The Embassy of Japan’s gift of a wood chipper will provide the means to manage the new dry litter piggery and increase production of compost at their facility. Along with the other new dry litter piggeries on Pohnpei, the College facility will be an important demonstration site for pig farmers to see how effective a dry litter piggery can be to reduce pollution and create compost for their farms.
The other wood chipper will be managed by Office of Economic Affairs - Agriculture for use by pig farmers in each of the municipalities who wish to build a dry litter piggery or retrofit their existing piggery to be managed with dry litter. Each farmer that converts their piggery to the dry litter system will reduce the amount of polluted water that threatens public health.
This all represents a groundswell of activity. There is much more to be done. At this point, we can form new partnerships with agencies like the Pohnpei Utility Corporation. When performing roadside vegetation maintenance to protect their lines, the vegetation can be put through the wood chippers and to create a supply of wood chips for pig farmers with dry litter piggeries.
We will continue to work with the Governor and Pohnpei State Departments on reasonable alternatives for sustainable piggery designs and update regulations and policies to specifically include language regarding piggeries.
The problem of unmanaged pig waste occurs on many islands in the Pacific region. The extent of the problem did not occur overnight and likewise it will take time to resolve. The Piggery Advisory Council understands that no one organization has all of the financial resources or technical capacity to work alone with farmers on Pohnpei but we are here as a group to provide information to farmers, hold workshops at demonstrations sites of progressive farmers who understand the importance and need for change, and to connect donor organizations like the Embassy of Japan who are willing to invest in the healthy future of Pohnpei.