Northeast may spring up as a pork export hub: APEDA Chairman

India’s largest pork processing plant, coming up in the Upper Assam town of Nazira, along with another upcoming unit in Sikkim targeting organic swine meat, will likely transform Northeast India into a pork export hub, with the potential to significantly alter the scale of the sector, a senior official of Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) said.

In FY 2019-20, a fiscal largely unscathed by Covid pandemic, India exported pork worth $1.67 million, with Bhutan and Nepal being two key export destinations, according to commerce department’s data. Northeast India’s contribution to this figure was, however, almost nil even as the region houses the state with the country’s biggest pig population: Assam, which rears 2.1 million pigs out of India’s 9.06 million, according to 2019 livestock census. Other states with sizable pig populations in India include Jharkhand, Meghalaya, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh and Nagaland.

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“There is a high demand for pork from India’s neighbours such as Myanmar and Bhutan and Southeast Asian nations such as Vietnam, Philippines, Singapore and Hong Kong. As we are now focussing on Act East Policy, Northeast India’s potential of exporting pork will fit well there. Our idea is also to export Northeast pork to high-valued European markets,” APEDA Chairman, M Angamuthu, told ET, adding that the region may spring up as a pork export hub.

The new plant in Assam, built at a cost of Rs 11.4 crore under the government’s Trade Infrastructure for Export Scheme (TIES), has a capacity of processing 400 pigs a day. The plant at Majitar in East Sikkim will have a capacity of 50 animals a day, with a clear focus on processing only organic pork.

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At present, Northeast has a functional processing capacity of less than 400 pigs a day and those are scattered around several pockets in Assam, Meghalaya and Mizoram. Most of those facilities are still using manual and semi-automatic machinery, and also don’t conform to other export requirements including certain hygienic parameters, said another officer.

But is there enough supply to utilise this capacity?

Manoj Kumar Basumatary, a banker-turned pig farmer who runs Northeast India’s biggest private pig breeding farm, Symbiotic Foods, does not appear to be enthused by the idea. “Northeast India presently consumes about 70% of the country’s total domestic pork production. We can’t even meet that demand locally,” he said. In fact, the region imports pork from states like Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. “Meeting local demands, not export, is the priority,” he added.

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Basumatary points out that catering to the export market means that pork producers would need to switch to raising global breeds. Breeds such as Hampshire, Large White Yorkshire, Duroc and Landrace have better yields (average meat yield of 75-80 kg per animal against 35 kg for Indian breeds).

Runa Rafique, another entrepreneur who set up a piggery in the outskirts of Guwahati in 2019, argued the region has a huge potential for pork exports provided the right ecosystem is created. At the moment, veterinary and vaccination facilities are inadequate, as are supplies of maize, used as pig feed. “It is tough for a woman, and that too if you are born as a Muslim (she married a Hindu), to venture into piggery. But I took that challenge. Yet, I failed to overcome the next obstacle, African swine fever. In just one fortnight, my farm was wiped out,” Rafique said.

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