Translated from Kokborok by Bibhuti Debbarma
India is home to one of the largest livestock wealth in the world. Pigs are an important part of this livestock, as pig farming provides a sustainable source of income to many farmers and tribals. About half a million people in India are involved in pig farming. Tribals in Tripura have been rearing pigs for a very long time now. This practice has continued even today in some parts of Tripura’s tribal areas. Since pork is the favourite meat of the tribals here, in rural areas almost each and every tribal family raises 2-3 pigs a year. Pork curry is the main delicacy on many special occasions.
Nowadays, the price of pork in the local markets in remote areas has skyrocketed, making tribals consider pig farming on their own, for themselves and to earn money. Sometimes in remote villages, many tribal people run their household by rearing pigs, in addition to doing other work. Many women are also involved in pig farming in Tripura.
Shantirani Debbarma, who is 82, tells me, “In olden days, many tribal people living in hilly regions didn’t raise pigs to earn money, they undertook jhum cultivation for their survival. In those days, the main purpose of rearing pigs was to offer them to God after harvesting the paddy from jhum. This ceremony of offerings was conducted by each and every tribal family in the village and every villager was invited to every other’s ceremony. Nowadays, although the food habits, culture and traditions of the tribal people remain the same, these kinds of offering ceremonies are not conducted any more. This is due to the fact that right now, there is a huge demand for pork in the market.”
Speaking about pork curry and weddings, Dhanjoy Debbarma, one of the senior members of our village adds, “In Tripura, there wasn’t a single tribal wedding ceremony that was conducted without pork curry in their menu. Some people even offered extra dishes like mutton curry, chicken curry, fish curry along with the pork curry in the wedding ceremony meal.”
In India, different types of pig breeds are available but the tribals of Tripura have always loved rearing the Desi breed (a native breed of Tripura). This breed of pigs usually have a small face and weigh up to 70 kilograms. Most of the tribal families here rear piglets of this variety, but not all.
Nironjonurang, a member of our community who rears pigs, says, “I started rearing pigs when I was 9 years old and even today I am doing the same job. Every year, I sell 3-4 pigs within 7-8 months, it doesn’t take a lot of time to grow them if we feed them properly. The breed that I am rearing right now is not a Desi breed, it is a hybrid piglet that I have bought from the market. It grows double in size as compared to the Desi breed (approximately 120-130 kilograms) within 7-8 months. In olden days, the Government used to distribute hybrid piglets at a low price as it grows more in a smaller time period, so many tribal people have changed their breed of choice from Desi breed piglets to hybrid piglets for rearing.”
Nowadays raising and breeding pigs is more profitable than normal rearing. Bedjani Debbarma, a farm owner in my village says, “A sow (mother pig) gives birth to 8-9 piglets at a time. Nowadays, if a single matured pig costs Rs. 23,000- 25,000, then just by selling 8-9 mature pigs within 7-8 months, we could earn a lot of money. Nowadays selling a mature pig is also not a difficult task because of the large demand for pork in the market. In some villages, some pig owners also earn a good amount of money by selling piglets. In today’s world, pig farming is a common source of income throughout the country and even the world. It is also an activity which requires low investment. I think more tribals in Tripura should try pig farming to earn a good amount of money.”
Pig farming is known to contribute to a faster economic return to the farmers and has great potential to ensure financial and nutritional security of rural areas. However, at the moment, pig farmers are facing a tough time due to COVID-19. Although normally a profitable business, times are tough for a lot of pig farmers across India due to shortage of labour, restrictions on transport and shutting down of shops, hotels and canteens.
Note: This article is created as a part of the Adivasi Awaaz project, with the support of Misereor and Prayog Samaj Sevi Sanstha.