Kuching PFA’s success a model to replicate
John Teo 

A BREAKTHROUGH more than two decades in the making for food exports from Sarawak came last Nov 15, with the shipment of live pigs to Singapore using a specialised container ship. The shipment by Green Breeder Sdn Bhd originated from the integrated Pig Farming Area (PFA) at Pasir Puteh in Simunjan, off the Kuching-Bandar Sri Aman road.

The same company has been exporting 90 metric tonnes of frozen pork on a monthly basis since February 2015 under its “Borneo Pork” premium branding.

At the official send-off of the first live pig shipment, Green Breeder director Dr Ng Siew Thiam said: “For this first batch, we are sending 350 live pigs and subsequently 200 per day.

“After the test run, it will be launched in Singapore in January 2018.”

The export to Singapore came following the ban on pig and pork exports from Peninsular Malaysia in recent years following a disease outbreak.

Before Sarawak came into the picture, Singapore relied on imports from Singapore-managed pig farms on an Indonesian island near it.

The export breakthrough did not come easy nor a moment sooner. In the words of Sarawak Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas: “They need 1,200 live pigs per day to be sent to Singapore.

“That means now we have a new market for our live pigs and food products. Before any of this can be exported, we have to comply with the stringent requirement of the Singapore government.

“One benefit of exporting from Sarawak is that the state does not have the foot and mouth disease, and we must take advantage of this situation.”


Improving SOPs

Unfortunately, the pig export milestone coincided with a rabies outbreak in Sarawak. And the less than stellar government response to that is far from reassuring.

Now that livestock exports from Sarawak are a reality, the state government has to revisit the standard operating procedures for handling any disease outbreak.

It has to tighten them where needed in the interest of public health and to protect the nascent food export business.

The initial success of pig export is part of a larger story that began in late 1997, when the Sarawak government approved the setting up of centralised PFAs for Kuching, Sibu and Miri.

That only the Kuching PFA is up and running, not just in Sarawak but across the entire country, is itself a story of fortitude and tenacity among those tasked with implementing the project.

Twenty years on and counting, the country’s first functioning dedicated PFA is still very much a work in progress.

Dr Chin Vei Ching, the retired Sarawak Veterinary Services director under whose watch much of the work on the Kuching PFA began, says that the project only started in 2004 with an approved government allocation of RM3 mil for initial infrastructure works on the 804ha site.


Making of the PFA

That was, of course, a wholly inadequate sum for a totally undeveloped and isolated site that lacked an access road and all other basic infrastructure.

Out of that barren parcel in the jungle, a modern, maximum bio-security area eventually came into being.

It is surrounded by 13km of double-fencing and equipped with state-of-the-art fully-ventilated “closed-house” pig enclosures.

It also has a bio-security centre and a waste-management system for a standing population of 250,000 pigs at any given time.

Considering that pigs produce an average of five times more waste than humans, this is roughly equivalent to building a centralised sewerage system for a city of 1.25 million people.

It might have been hard to envision in 2004, but the country now boasts its only functional modern PFA that ensures a fully vertical and horizontal integration of the entire pig-farming cycle – from its own in-house feed mills to abattoirs and meat-processing facilities.

Dr Chin said the PFA realisation fulfilled four key objectives – restructuring and modernising the pig-farming industry, reducing pollution from pig waste, controlling diseases and improving the state’s balance of trade in food items.

Having all the modern infrastructure now in place at the Kuching PFA may prove, over time, to be just half the challenge.

The key to its success will be having the suitable and effective management in place to keep the place humming along. That takes infinitely more than keeping 250,000 pigs contented at any one time.

Since the Kuching PFA is designed to cater eventually to all existing pig farmers in the Kuching area (a rough estimate puts the figure at 70-plus farmers), there is in place a joint public-private management system between the government on the one hand and the PFA operator company.

The operator company is, in turn, composed of the anchor farmer (Green Breeder) and a union of other farmers, the majority of whom have yet to move into the PFA.

Bringing existing pig farmers into the PFA voluntarily is a tedious enough task, but that should eventually be resolved once pig-farming outside the PFA is banned.

The challenge is to make all stakeholders happy with the PFA management. Hence, it is little wonder that no other PFAs have taken off anywhere else in the country.

A favourable and conducive environment with government foresight, enlightened and committed implementers and buy-in of intended beneficiaries is a huge juggling act with any plan worth having.

Now that the Kuching PFA has not just become a reality but made a truly commendable stride in cracking an export market as stringent as Singapore’s, it goes without saying that it is in everyone’s interest now to see that it is successful.

Hopefully, it will become a model for implementing other planned PFAs in the country as well. To be truly competitive in the export business, any player needs to be highly efficient in the long-term.

Can the Kuching PFA’s hybrid management system ultimately compete against efficiently-run single-owner pig farms in advanced countries?

Is it not better for existing pig farms in Kuching to be consolidated into several bigger players to achieve economies of scale? This will make them better able to compete in the export market.

Will a government-enforced nudge be necessary to see that this happens? Will that even be desirable at all?  Only time will tell.

John Teo is based in Kuching. Comments:

This article first appeared in Focus Malaysia Issue 267.