The growing demand for pork resulting from the growth of the hotel industry and the proliferation of fast food chains in the country has prompted farmers in Punjab to go in for pig farming in a big way.
Punjab's farmers, having heard about superior ways of rearing pigs from friends and relatives who had earlier migrated to Canada, and work on pig farms there, have begun rearing pigs on superior feed such as soya and maize. They have also started importing good-quality sperm to raise yields.
Sukhwinder Singh, a small farmer who has a landholding of one acre near Ludhiana, took to pig farming a few years ago. He started with three animals and now has 50 female pigs (or sows), and the number of pigs on his farm will reach 300 in winters.
"I can rear up to 1,000 pigs in one acre, because swine breeding can be done in a compact shed. Compared to dairy farming, pig farming is quite cost-effective. A dairy farmer can rear only five head of cattle in one acre of land, as he has to grow fodder for the animals too. Land is very expensive and rents are exorbitant. Buying fodder makes the venture unviable. Pig farming is a lucrative proposition for small and marginal farmers," Singh said.
Seeking help from Punjab Agriculture University (PAU), Ludhiana, Singh has organised 160 farmers into the Punjab Progressive Piggery Farmers Association. He has also done a course in pig rearing at PAU.
According to Singh, there is tremendous potential for pig farmers, because the demand is huge. "We get queries from big chains in Delhi for hygienic meat, but they need volumes. There is a demand for 50 animals per day from individual firms in the organised sector which supply to the hospitality sector, and this may go up to 200 animals per day from slaughter houses in the National Capital Region. But we are unable to supply. Punjab produces close to 8,000 pigs a year against a demand of over 70,000 animals per annum," said Singh.
Small producers have to sell in the local market at a price of Rs 80 per kg, while large farmers who meet the norms of the food chains can earn up to Rs 150 per kg.
The Punjab government provides a subsidy of Rs 1.7 lakh on bank loans of Rs 6 lakh to small pig farmers. However, according to farmers, banks are reluctant to lend to farmers with small-sized land holdings.
Rakesh Banga, who runs a slaughterhouse in Delhi, said that this is a non-competitive, sunrise industry. "It is a high-yield business. In poultry, one kilogram of bird gives 700 grams of meat and we get 90 per cent meat from a live pig. It is a low-risk business that is suitable for Indian climatic conditions."
There is a huge demand in the international market also. The players in the business of meat processing plan to diversify but the volume of meat is not available.
The ministry of food processing provides a 25 per cent subsidy for meat processing units. Banks offer a 25 per cent interest waiver on loans. They also offer 50 per cent of the loan amount at 10 per cent. This is a big incentive for the meat processing industry. "But we are looking for good pig farms," Banga said.