Mike Burke, chairman of VIVA, an Irish charity set up in 1999 by Longford veterinary surgeon Brendan Mimnagh, is currently drumming up support to help send these pigs to Rwanda, a country in central-east Africa devastated by genocide in 1994.
The financial goal is €30,000 and the pot currently has €2,000 in it.
The project will see 260 gilts (young female pigs), supplied by Hermitage Genetics in Kilkenny, airlifted to help kickstart a programme with a group of farmers in the Rusizi and Nyamasheke districts in western Rwanda. Each family will get two pigs each and each farming family is obliged to “pass on” a piglet from the first litters of these pigs to another farmer in the group.
Working with its project partners, Bóthar and Heifer Rwanda, the VIVA programme will provide training to the farmers involved prior to the pigs arriving in Rwanda by helping them to construct adequate housing for the pigs. They will also receive basic husbandry training. They will then be monitored for the lifetime of the project.
"Some farmers will then be trained as trainees," says Burke. "So they will become mentors to the next generation of farmers in the region".
Farming in Rwanda
Farming in Rwanda comprises mainly subsistence agriculture where families grow just enough to feed themselves. An estimated 90% of the population is involved in agriculture and more than half of them survive on just 90c/day.
This project will provide a ready source of protein, improve income through the sale of off-spring and other pig products and lead to improved and sustainable incomes and nutrition for the families
However, although most families are able to feed themselves, subsistence farming has its limitations. Foremost of these is the fact that this type of farming is a cashless enterprise and money is needed to send children to school, improve housing conditions and so forth.
"This project will provide a ready source of protein, improve income through the sale of off-spring and other pig products and lead to improved and sustainable incomes and nutrition for the families," says Burke.
He adds that the limited amount of livestock Rwandan farmers have at the moment suffers from low productivity due to lack of knowledge on the part of the farmers, poorer genetics and low-quality feed.
"When we give them the pigs we will show them the best conditions to keep them in, the best feed to give them, etc. Pigs are the best option as livestock for these farmers," Burke continues, "as they are very resilient, they produce a large litter and their diet is more varied than other animals. They also find it easier to adapt to the hotter climate by creating wallows where they can roll around in watery mud. This cools them down and prevents them from getting sunburnt."
Reception from Irish pig farmers
Shane McAuliffe, a pig farmer from Co Kerry and swine technical manager with Interchem, became interested in the difference livestock can make for farmers in developing countries when he travelled to Ghana in west Africa four years ago to volunteer in a veterinary clinic.
Irish people in general are very supportive when it comes to charity projects
When he heard about this project he said he knew he "just had to get involved". And he's scaling some new heights in the process.
"I've set up a GoFundMe page to help VIVA reach the €30k target and I've also committed myself to doing a sky-dive in August," he says. "So hopefully that will get people aware of the project and more willing to support it."
McAuliffe travels around a lot of farms for his job with Interchem and this gives him the perfect platform to spread the word.
"I've had an excellent response from pig farmers so far. Although it has been a difficult year for pig farmers in Ireland in terms of prices, they are very willing to support it and understand the difference it will make to the people living in these communities. And we know Irish people in general are very supportive when it comes to charity projects."
Rwanda’s economy was devastated by the genocide in 1994 but the country has made huge progress since then in reducing poverty. The country has one of the highest population densities in Africa and few natural resources.
Under its ambitious “Vision 2020” strategic framework for the development of Rwanda, the country intends to become a middle income economy by 2020 with a per capita income of $1,240, reducing the poverty rate from 64% to 20%. One of the six pillars of Vision 2020 is the transformation of agriculture from subsistence farming into a productive, high-value, market-oriented sector.
So fingers crossed VIVA will hit their target and 260 pigs will be flying out of Shannon this autumn.
If you want to support this project you can contact Mike Burke on 086 2568357 or firstname.lastname@example.org or you can donate via the GoFundMe page. A sum of €250 will cover the costs of airlifting one pig to Rwanda and €100 will pay for the training and mentoring of one farming family.